'Dishwasher Dreams' at Writers Theatre chronicles one family's pursuit of the American dream

  • Comedian-turned-playwright Alaudin Ullah, right (seen here with percussionist Avirodh Sharma), chronicles his immigrant father's pursuit of the American dream and his own in his autobiographical show "Dishwasher Dreams" at Writers Theatre.

    Comedian-turned-playwright Alaudin Ullah, right (seen here with percussionist Avirodh Sharma), chronicles his immigrant father's pursuit of the American dream and his own in his autobiographical show "Dishwasher Dreams" at Writers Theatre. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 
 
Updated 12/23/2021 10:02 AM

"Dishwasher Dreams" -- ★ ★

A celebration is underway at Writers Theatre that has nothing to do with the season. Rooted in perseverance and the pursuit of the American dream (in its various incarnations), it's a celebration of family, specifically the family of standup comedian Alaudin Ullah, whose father is the titular restaurant worker referenced in Ullah's solo show, "Dishwasher Dreams."

 

Produced in association with Hartford Stage (which presents the show next February), the autobiographical dramedy grew out of frustration Ullah experienced while pursuing a career in standup and film. Seeing actor/writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson's one-man show "Lackawanna Blues" during the early 2000s inspired Ullah to share the story of his family, beginning with his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh during the 1930s, worked as a dishwasher and eventually opened his own restaurant in New York City.

While such immigration stories are familiar, not many chronicle the experiences of South Asians, who Ullah says remain underrepresented in America, particularly when it comes to popular culture. With "Dishwasher Dreams," which he first performed in 2018, Ullah attempts to address that imbalance.

Composer/percussionist Avirodh Sharma provides the soundtrack for Alaudin Ullah's solo show "Dishwasher Dreams," running through Jan. 16 at Writers Theatre.
Composer/percussionist Avirodh Sharma provides the soundtrack for Alaudin Ullah's solo show "Dishwasher Dreams," running through Jan. 16 at Writers Theatre. - Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

He succeeds, in part, thanks to his earnest performance in this warmhearted, gently humorous show, which benefits greatly from the evocative musical accompaniment by composer/percussionist and tabla player Avirodh Sharma.

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But, at this point, the show feels like a series of thematically connected standup bits rather than a seamlessly unfolding narrative. Part of that problem rests with the sometimes stilted transitions between scenes. Ultimately, it needs refining, and would likely benefit from additional shaping by director Chay Yew, who has experience developing solo works having helmed Glenview native Brian Quijada's one-man show "Where Did We Sit on the Bus?" locally and off-Broadway.

With one or two exceptions, "Dishwasher Dreams" lacks emotional heft and the characters are not distinctly defined. That might be the result of Ullah's limited experience as an actor, which is something Yew might help him improve.

Overall, it's a pleasant trip down memory lane underscored -- as most autobiographical shows are -- by personal revelations.

Writer/comedian Alaudin Ullah performs "Dishwasher Dreams" through Jan. 16 at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.
Writer/comedian Alaudin Ullah performs "Dishwasher Dreams" through Jan. 16 at Writers Theatre in Glencoe. - Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

The play begins with Ullah on the verge of landing a film role he thinks could be his big break, but puts it on hold when he is summoned from California back to his native New York for his mother's medical procedure. From there he recounts his father Habib's journey to America in pursuit of a better life, Habib's friendship with fellow dishwasher Sidney Poitier, marriage to Ullah's mother, and the birth of Ullah and his older brother.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ullah shares stories about his conflicts with his parents, his obsession with New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson and his admiration for George Carlin, who inspired him to become a comedian and urged him to "make fun of the stereotype but don't become one."

He recalls the thrill of early success at NYC's Don't Tell Mama and the disappointment over his inability to break through in Hollywood. The play concludes as such solo self-examinations often do, with a revelation that despite their differences, he and his father share a fundamental desire -- the desire of all immigrants, really -- to achieve what they dream. That's an accomplishment worth celebrating.

• • •

Location: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847) 242-6000, writerstheatre.org

Showtimes: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 16

Tickets: $35-$90

Running time: About one hour, 40 minutes, with no intermission

Parking: Street parking nearby

Rating: For teens and older; contains adult language and themes

COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test and masking required

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