Be Like Water

Veteran performance-art monologist Dan Kwong takes a stab at multicharacter, dramatic narrative with this rather sweet, albeit conventionally scripted, coming-of-age dramedy. If Kwong leaves his avant behind, however, fans will be happy to see his signature arsenal of pop-culture tropes and racial-justice themes survive the assault only slightly blunted. Tracy (Saya Tomioka) is a 14-year-old, Asian-American karate-kicking tomboy, struggling through the psychic obstacle course of adolescence. Familiar sexual identity and self-image hazards are made even more harrowing, however, when complicated by the pernicious racism of Chicago’s Chinatown, circa 1978. But this is the post–Bruce Lee world, meaning Tracy has a virile Asian role model she can emulate when she goes up against the class bigot (Jonathan Decker). More than that, she has the man himself, or at least his conjured ghost (an amazing Cesar Cipriano), as her spiritual trainer. Somehow, the ghost’s faux philosophical doublespeak guides her through a brush with the law (and into a dress) and reconciles her culturally divided parents (Michael Sun Lee & Pam Hayashida). As a playwright, Kwong still has some remedial lessons ahead on curbing television-bred structural and linguistic ticks and on how to write a stage entrance. A lush and polished production by director Chris Tashima and his gifted design team helps to smooth over some of the rough edges, while terrific performances from a likable ensemble make one overlook the rest.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Sept. 17. Continues through Oct. 12, 2008