Taste of Others

Solo memoirist Andrew Weems does most when least himself.

Namaste Man, now receiving its world premiere at Intiman, works best when the Pandora's box of its playwright and performer, Andrew Weems, opens wide and characters parade by in delightful and seemingly endless variety. When things go awry, it's a bit like watching the procession of misassembled creatures in Toy Story—often disorienting and just a little unsettling. In recounting his upbringing stateside and overseas in Nepal, Weems is surprisingly least effective when sketching out his current livelihood as an itinerant actor in New York City.At the outset, he admits to a faulty sense of direction (in the sense that he could benefit from wearing a GPS the wayFlavaFlavwears a clock), and whenever trudging the labyrinth of Manhattan, he'sforever getting turned around. But that'sthe real problem with the script, too: WheneverWeemsisn'treveling inhis creation of some new exotic character, he appears lost. It'snot unusual, but here'sanother fine actor who'smuch more comfortable hiding in roles. Clearly he'd much rather slip into the skins of the fascinating folks he'smet than reveal much about himself. It's the brilliance of what's so good here—Weems' ability to conjure time, place, scent, and taste out of thin air with the wave of a hand or a twist of intonation—that makes the extraneous and phony grate a bit more than it otherwise might. With a few surgical edits and some judicious smoothing-out of these rough patches, Weems and director Bartlett Sher have the makings of a show that could run Off-Broadway in perpetuity. Weems's thesis, like a good steak or a pair of Levi's, is never going to go out of style, because it taps in so well to the universal verities of growing up. It's certainly unique in construction, settings, and characterizations, but at its core, Namaste Man is what Carl Jung and anyone born since would quickly recognize as archetypes common to us all. As the one-man show unfolds, Weems is our bedraggled and bewildered tour guide, leading us through the rainswept streets of Manhattan, where a coffee-shop encounter with "Tenzing Lama" (in Nepal, apparently, a name as common as Joe Smith) sends him spinning into a reverie of his childhood near Kathmandu. Never mind for now that Mr. Lama is likely what his mother would coolly dismiss as "an operator," with eyes clearly fixed on the prize of Weems' Social Security number and bank account particulars. Whenever the script takes us to Nepal, Weems holds his audience (with a full house for a Sunday matinee, no less) in hushed thrall. Americans and Brits, Nepalis and Aussies, Eastern Indians and dozens more come spilling out in remarkably nuanced detail. His father is perhaps one of the last great New Frontier stalwarts John Kennedy called to action back in the '60s. He's the U.S. State Department's can-do kind of guy, much better at glad-handing and winning trust than at sustaining it. His wife, Barbara (whom the kids inexplicably decide to rename "Mabel"), is the long-suffering spouse who self-medicates with an assortment of Rat Pack–era records and cocktails as she's lobbed with children in tow from one continent to another. Weems is really at his best in delivering Barbara's sonorous lines with an almost Eeyore-esque resignation—and it gives him the opportunity to trot out a few of his favorite voice impressions—including Der Bingle, Ol' Blue Eyes, Tony Bennett, and Lady Day. Back and forth the family jets, and the result onstage is at least as dizzying as it must have been for Weems, his mother, brother, and sister. Very quickly, we get it: America is great for football and rock music, but there's a real earthen magic to life at the foot of the Himalayas. With subtle sound and lighting cues providing minimal assistance, Weems spelunks deep into the everyday world of Nepali culture. Watching at a distance as a young woman purifies herself in a sacred body of water, we feel the same pubescent twinges. Finally, we're along for his first foray onto the stage, when young Weems is cast as the wisecracking kid alongside his dad's multiculti co-workers. In Weems' vivid recreation, the show has more international, um, flavor than anything the playwright could possibly have envisioned. Overall, Weems and Sher do much to create mood, but anyone hoping for a sturdy plotline full of linear touchstones is going to go scrambling for the Advil. Instead, Namaste Man is a menagerie of singular characters and experiences stitched together in a frequently captivating piece of theater. As a one-act play (we're told it's an hour and a half with no intermission, but Sunday's performance clearly ran longer), it's a confection that provides 70 minutes of entertainment at its tasty center, surrounded by a cookie that crumbles far too quickly. stage@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus