Mu Performing Arts' Rick Shiomi comes full circle with this production at the Dowling Studio. Thirty years ago, Yellow Fever was a breakthrough for the playwright. Now, as he gets ready to pass on Mu's mantle, Shiomi returns to the play.
Yellow Fever has the look and sound of a play by a young playwright loving the act of creation, intoxicated with the possibility of the stage, and ready to share a story close to his heart. It also sometimes uses a bludgeon when a knife would be more appropriate.
Using devices from hard-boiled detective stories, Shiomi spins a tale — likely not ironically — right out of Chinatown. Set in Vancouver at the beginning of 1973, the play centers on Sam Shikaze, a private detective working to uncover a tangled plot about a kidnapped beauty queen that quickly turns into something tied into tensions between the Asian and white communities.
Yellow FeverGuthrie Theater818 S. Second St., Minneapolis612.377.2224; through March 24
OrPark Square Theatre 20 W. Seventh Pl.651.291.7005; through March 17
The style gives us a lot of the show's humor, while the story allows Shiomi to explore vital issues, from the camps Japanese-Americans were sent to during World War II to the glass ceiling found at plenty of institutions. Still, the action does occasionally crawl to a halt for an Important Message to be transmitted.
The current production showcases the work Mu has done over the past two decades, featuring the talents of locally based Asian-American actors. Kurt Kwan (as Sam) and Eric Sharp (as Captain Kadota) quickly show us the differences of opinion that have marked the two men who both want to protect and serve their communities, even if they go about it in different ways.
Sara Ochs doesn't have much to work with as spunky reporter Nancy Wing, but her performance is funny and helps to provide some needed balance to the growing darkness of the story. The light side is also aided by Alex Galick, who plays young attorney Chuck Chan, another member of the community trying to exist in two worlds.
Arrayed against our heroes are Brandon Ewald and Wade A. Vaughn, who represent the forces of oppression. Shiomi's script doesn't give them too much depth, but the actors fill them out enough so they aren't just generic baddies No. 1 and No. 2.
Or, Liz Duffy Adams's comedic Restoration-era drama, is more a showcase for the trio of actors than a thought-provoking exploration of the times. Sure, there are some nods to the parallels between the 1660s and 1960s, but the central story doesn't hold much tension.
What the production, ably directed by Leah Cooper, has are terrific actors who relish every saucy moment of the script. Emily Gunyou Halaas is Aphra, a former spy who dreams of being a playwright and a poet. With the secret patronage of Charles II (Matt Guidry), that dream is within her grasp, until old flame — and double agent — William Scot (also Guidry) shows up on her doorstep with news of a wild plot to murder the king.
The monarch, as it turns out, is in the bedroom with Aphra's friend, actress Nell Gwynne (Mo Perry). It doesn't take long for the full-on farce to get started, especially with observant servant Maria (Perry) hanging around.
All of this gets juggled expertly by the cast, who carve out fresh characters at every turn, while also breathing life into them in sometimes very limited stage time. The script's sense of danger never elevates enough to make for really rollicking humor, but the sheer joy of liberation that permeates the whole production is intoxicating.