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THEATER BEAT

Early Hwang at East West

June 04, 1993|RICHARD STAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The pair of early David Henry Hwang one-acts at East West Players are obviously the labor of a young, developing playwright. "The Dance and the Railroad" premiered in 1981, "The House of Sleeping Beauties" in 1983. Neither possess the stage magic and confidence that the more mature Hwang later demonstrated so powerfully in "M. Butterfly."

"Dance" is the more imitative of the two, revealing Hwang's apprenticeship under Murray Mednick in Padua playwriting workshops. Mystic rituals and arguments between immigrant railroad workers on a mountaintop? Mednick's metaphysical "Coyote Cycle," produced at Padua while Hwang studied there, casts pretentious shadows over "Dance."

Director Philip Kan Gotanda can't rescue "Sleeping Beauties" from self-conscious posturing. Flashes of the future Hwang appear in this adaptation of Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata's novella, set in a brothel where sleep replaces sex.

Hwang imaginatively merges fiction with fact by transforming the story's hero into Kawabata. This allows him to investigate possible motives for the author's mysterious suicide. Identities transfer between the intellectual and the young geisha--a theme Hwang later worked out in "M. Butterfly."

*"The Dance and the Railroad" and "The House of Sleeping Beauties," East West Players, 4424 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday matinees 2 p.m. Ends July 4. $18-$20. (213) 660-0366. Running time: 2 hours.

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