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Japanese-Canadian private eye in a classic detective yarn

Yellow Fever. Comedy melodrama by R.A. Shiomi. Directed by Raul Aranas. It's not Sam Spade. It's Sam Shikaze. And thereby hangs the witty suspense tale told by R.A. Shiomi in ''Yellow Fever,'' at the 47th Street Theatre. The ingenious Mr. Shiomi has borrowed from the folklore of American detective fiction and invested his Japanese-Canadian private eye with some of its classic lingo and garb (the hat with the turned-down brim, the enshrouding topcoat, etc.). Also in the tradition, Sam is hard-bitten and hard-drinking, but with his own gritty integrity and code of ethics.

The Vancouver scene is set for the 1970s standoff between Sam (Donald Li) and the bad guys who have kidnapped the daughter of a bigwig in the local Asian community. When Sam receives a note warning him to beware of the ides of March and stay off the case, a friend explains all about Julius Caesar. The particular accomplishment of ''Yellow Fever'' is the way the dramatist manages to keep it running on three tracks: parody of a Bogart-type thriller; self-contained, self-respecting plot; and sharp condemnation of racism, North American style.

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In the Raul Aranas staging, the Pan Asian Theater production receives a splendid performance from the cast headed by Mr. Li as the durable and dedicated investigator. The company includes Henry Yuk as Sam's affluent lawyer buddy, Freda Foh Shen as the attractive girl reporter with a yen for Sam, Ernest Abuba as an Asian-Canadian police captain caught in the middle, and Jeffrey Spolan as a racist police sergeant. The mix is further enriched by Carol A. Honda's jolly cafe owner and James Jenner doubling as a suspicious Japanophile and a police superintendent.

Set designer Christopher Stapleton manages to crowd Sam's dingy office and various other Vancouver locales onto the small 47th Street Theatre stage. The production was lighted by Dawn Chiang and costumed by Eiko Yamaguchi.

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