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Touching, Funny Look at Racial Stereotypes

YANKEE DAWG YOU DIE Play by Philip Kan Gotanda at Playwrights Horizons. Directed by Sharon Ott. `YANKEE DAWG YOU DIE'' is the latest stage work by Philip Kan Gotanda, whose most recent credits include the screenplay for the well-received film ``The Wash.'' Mr. Gotanda's new comedy is a funny, touching, and at times astringent study of a pair of Asian-American actors pursuing their careers in Los Angeles. The author uses the situation for some wide-ranging observations about perceptions and misperceptions, racial stereotypes, friendship, and the search for identity in the context of the entertainment world.

Vincent (Sab Shimono) and Bradley (Stan Egi) meet at one of those Hollywood parties where newcomers get the chance to rub shoulders and share small talk with celebrities.

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Suave Vincent, the established pro, has achieved his standing mostly as a portrayer of Japanese stereotypes in World War II movies and assorted low-budget films. Brash newcomer Bradley mingles respect for his more accomplished senior with unconcealed disdain for some of the demeaning parts Vincent accepted. But the older player takes pride in having ``never turned down a role,'' including one for which he received an Oscar nomination. An ardent admirer of Fred Astaire, he even recalls his days as a song-and-dance man on ``the chop-suey circuit'' and (in a delightful bit) gets Bradley to join him for a brief turn.

A friendship gradually develops between the two men. In a scene rich with nuances, Vincent coaches Bradley through the dagger soliloquy from ``Macbeth.'' The incident leads to a revelation typical of Gotanda's capacity to surprise the spectator.

Vincent subsequently joins Bradley's experimental theater group for a ``Godzilla'' sendup that provides a hilarious act one climax.

Under Sharon Ott's discreet staging, Messrs. Shimoto and Egi reveal not only the strengths and vulnerabilities of their friendship but the uncertainties of their status in a society which refuses to accept them as full Americans.

Bradley is quick to apologize for his periodic bluntness. With the older man's tolerant forgiveness, the younger man becomes more understanding. At the same time, he also becomes more successful. Mr. Gotanda concludes his appealing study of two players with stars in their eyes on a note that is simultaneously ironic and poignant.

In addition to Kent Dorsey's highly creative sets and projections, ``Yankee Dawg You Die'' benefits from the imaginative design work of Jess Goldstein (costumes), Dan Kotlowitz (lighting), and Stephen LeGrand and Eric Drew Feldman (music and sound design).

The rewarding production is scheduled to run through June 11.

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