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STAGE REVIEW : East West Goes British in 'Accomplice'

May 30, 1992|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The East West Players, L.A.'s primary Asian-American theater company, has never been afraid to explode stereotypical casting in such non-Asian-specific theater as "Godspell" and "Company." But seldom has it challenged the murder mystery genre, especially one loaded with thick British accents.

Rupert Holmes' comedy-thriller "Accomplice," which is set in a cottage in the moors and relies heavily on an upper-class English dialect, is certainly not a play you'd expect to see cast with Asian-American actors. But in this age of multiculturalism, why not?

In an earlier, insensitive time, Marlon Brando played an Asian character in "Teahouse of the August Moon," and we all know about the casting brouhaha in "Miss Saigon." By staging "Accomplice," the East West Players at least plays it straight and doesn't attempt any cosmetic artifice.

For a play as tricky as this, the performers do have to act very British, both in body language and voice. Dialect coach Heidi Helen Davis did her job well. The four-member cast, under debuting director Francois Chau (who also designed the richly appointed stone-field manor set), is quite good at the British stuff, especially since it's intended to appear a little unreal anyway.

And when the actors are asked to slip into American English, they're quite at home in a witty production that exploits all forms of dire deeds: a wife dropping poison into her boring husband's gin and soda and later throwing a whirring hair dryer into his footbath, not to mention such deadly devices as a knife and a trap door.

As in "Deathtrap" and "Sleuth," each scene is displaced by an even greater dramatic surprise. The ending, however, in which the audience is the accomplice--which is giving away nothing--doesn't work nearly as well as everything that's gone before it. (The questionable ending was also the quibbling point about the original production three years ago at the Pasadena Playhouse.) Anyway, Holmes is nothing if not a fooler, which has been the recent pattern for mystery thrillers.

As for the players, the production's star and all-purpose anchor is the humorous Alberto Isaac as the "husband" who's not what he seems. The so-called romantic rival and aspiring matinee idol is comfortably played by the steady Donald Li. The "wife" is portrayed with gusto by Patty Toy and "the other woman" is demurely parlayed by Susan Byun.

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