The Wind Cries Mary
                 

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Philip Kan Gotanda's latest play, inspired by Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, mixes 60s politics, racial issues and feminism in uneven fashion. The drama has its powerful and striking moments, but hurts itself by distancing itself from the audience, thanks to its uniformly unappealing and overly talkative cast of characters. At the top of that list put Eiko, the Hedda-like protagonist (played with commanding flair by Jodi Long). Born in Japan (a country whose language and customs she purports to despise), Eiko is a black-haired beauty who has married for status, not love--though her choice of husband, a goofy academic (Thomas Vincent Kelly in another skilful performance) doesn't make dramaturgical sense (he doesn't yet have a university job and is living off his fluttery aunt Gladys (Diana Kay Cameron, wasted in an underwritten part).

Eiko likes it that hubby Raymond is weak and naive; it makes it easy for her to manipulate and insult him, which she does so copiously and blatantly that it becomes offputting. Ibsen's Hedda was no pussycat, God knows, but Eiko's Dragon Lady routine makes Hedda look like Donna Reed (a name Gotanda often throws around, by the way--shorthand for 60s middle-class conformity).

Eiko's failure to join the anti-war and civil rights protests are what ultimately lead to her self-destruction, the playwright would have us believe. Caught between two cultures, East and West, unable to triumph over her own flaws and act with courage (rather than cunning), Eiko brings disaster down on herself-- and on the only man she has ever truly loved, Miles (Kelvin Han Yee), a political firebrand whose drug habit is so bad he needs a keeper (Rachel, played by Kamila Abdullayeva).

Sab Shimono, as a smug, smarmy professor with a lech for Eiko, rounds out the excellent cast. Director Lisa Peterson, usually so reliable, has taken THE WIND, essentially a family drama, and tried to make it seem larger and more important than it is by giving it a high, formal style. The idea doesn't work.

At East West Players, 120 John Aiso St., through Feb. 29. Call (213) 625-7000 x20 or visit eastwestplayers.org