Scripter Paul Kikuchi’s undernourished ethnocentric comedy, “Ixnay,” unsuccessfully attempts to peruse the dynamics of contemporary Asian-American identity, prejudice and racial stereotyping as a diverse group of deceased mortals await their turn for rebirth at the Reincarnation Station. Helmer Jeff Liu’s meandering staging offers little help to a tentative, eight-member ensemble that could use more rehearsal time with the material and with each other.Set in a heaven-like waiting room (impressively realized by Kurt Boetcher), the action follows angst-ridden Japanese-American Raymond Kobayashi (Aaron Takahashi) who is determined not to be reincarnated back into the pressure-filled sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) world where every son is expected to become a high-achieving professional success story. Equally resolute that Raymond has to go back to prevent the dissolution of their culture is gatekeeper honcho Tadashi Ozaki (Gedde Watanabe), who will use any nefarious means to get Raymond through the reincarnation door. Circling around this confrontation are a menagerie of self-serving souls that include ultraconservative Chinese-American dentist Dr. Fong (Matthew Yang King), youthful Filipino “gangsta” wannabe Eric (Dante Basco), outgoing Samoan Julie (Ellen D. Williams), deceptively grandmotherly Korean Grace Kim (June Kyoko Lu), callow Asian wannabe white boy Norton Biggs (Matt Braaten) and Ozaki’s comely, young assistant Reiko (Elizabeth Ho). Kikuchi’s heavyhanded dialogue is unrelentingly agenda-driven as each of these Asian-Americans takes a turn at chronicling and analyzing the prejudicial profiling that plagues his or her particular ethnicity. Unfortunately, the cast appears to be struggling to inhabit their onstage personas, causing much of the intended character interaction and humor to dissipate. Liu’s arbitrary stage business is of little help. Takahashi’s under-volumed, one-note outing as Kobayashi always seems about a half beat off rhythm in his reactions, especially in the intended contentious interplay with Watanabe’s Ozaki. For his part, Watanabe hasn’t yet mastered his lines well enough to carry off the comical shenanigans of his villainous character. More successful is Ho’s ultra-sympathetic Reiko, who never fails enliven the production whenever she is onstage. “Ixnay” offers a plethora of information and insight into the shifting nature of the Asian experience in the U.S. What is needed is a serious rethinking and reshaping to turn this effort into a viable stage work.
David Henry Hwang Theater, Los Angeles: 245 Seats; $35 top
An East West Players presentation of a play in two acts by Paul Kikuchi. Directed by Jeff Liu.
Sets, Kurt Boetcher; costumes, Ivy J. Chou; lighting, Christopher M. Singleton; sound, Dennis Yen; stage manager, Darlene Miyakawa. Opened, reviewed Feb. 18. Closes March 15. Running time: 1 HOUR, 45 MIN.
Raymond Kobayashi - Aaron Takahashi Tadashi Osaki - Gedde Watanabe Reiko Tanaka - Elizabeth Ho Dr. Frank Fong - Matthew Yang King Julie Fotoni - Ellen D. Williams Grace Kim - June Kyoko Lu Eric Galindo - Dante Basco Norton Biggs - Matt Braaten