The immigrant’s tale is often good theater fodder, and comedian Alaudin Ullah antes up with his one-man show, Dishwasher Dreams. The story follows his family’s journey from Bangladesh to Spanish Harlem, and his own adventures in comedy clubs and Hollywood. Mixed in, there’s a celebrity encounter, a heartfelt paean to Reggie Jackson and an ongoing meditation on what it’s like to be South Asian in the U.S.A.
The show is replete with anecdotes, dating back to the 1950s, when Ullah’s father, Habib, would habitually hop trains to Dhaka to see American movies. His favorite was “On the Waterfront.” Eventually, Habib moved to New York and started working as a dishwasher.
Ullah is a great storyteller – and incredibly funny – describing detailed scenes with Bengali, Puerto Rican and Bahamian characters. There are lots of stories to tell: His father’s dishwashing job, the restaurant he briefly co-owned, his first wife, his second wife, Alaudin’s mother.
Ullah shares his own strained relationships with his parents, growing up Muslim, assimilating, going to Yankee Stadium, getting into comedy. Each story is a little gem and Ullah takes great joy in telling them.
I was swayed by that enthusiasm, for awhile, but then I started to wonder: Is there a specific point he’s trying to make? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no.
There are lots of great stories, but they don’t really build on each other, and the conglomeration of so much information ultimately detracts from any larger theme. For example, he touches briefly on racism: the irony that Bengalis can be both biased against Black people and mistaken for Black people by White racists. I wanted him to linger there for just a couple of beats longer, but he quickly moved on to something else.
This happens frequently, as Ullah broaches poignant subjects and rapidly leaves them. The end result is a mild cacophony of humorous stories and ideas that don’t fully align. This wouldn’t matter at all in a comedy routine, but here I want more.
Ullah’s monologue is accompanied by Avirodh Sharma’s sublime drumming, which acts as both backdrop and punctuation, and the production is immensely likeable, but it has no heft. Dishwasher Dreams is sometimes hilarious, and Ullah is a tremendous talent, but I feel like he took me to the altar and just left me there.