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ACHIEVERS

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Here's a little twist on the audience experience: Five actors appear onstage in various main roles, then most do double duty as various friends, parents, or fantasies of these main roles; but the closer each gets to his or her "character" role, the more that performance seems refined. We oddly end up believing, and rooting for, the supporting characters.

The five main characters are roommates in a two-bedroom West Los Angeles apartment. All are Asian American. And, despite the characters' announced aversions to stereotypes, playwright Michael Golamco and director Naoya Imanishi give us the perfectionist Ellen (Anh Nguyen), the slutty Akira (Mariza Rivera), the druggie Shingo (Randall Park), the party boy Murphy (Michael Shen), and the extreme introvert Trent (Teddy Chen Culver). We find out as much about each from narration, delivered in third-person monologues, and from sudden flashbacks as we do from the play's action. But during this interrupted exposition we also see the actors at their best. Rivera's unhappy sleep-around character is credibly done, but when she portrays Ellen's mother, with a heavy Chinese accent and aged gait, she has suddenly become believably subsumed in the role.

Likewise we watch Nguyen as the driven Ellen, with her moments of believability. But when she becomes Trent's long-lost school crush, she seems freer as she more fully fleshes this character. Shen becomes dark and real portraying Akira's dastardly father. Park plays the most caricatured and comedic of the five roommates and is given the majority of laugh lines; some lag although most are delivered crisply. His physical comedy is polished, however, as are his phone monologues.

Holding fast to his every character is Culver, who takes not one false step onstage. He is lively, witty, and physically expansive as Johnny Wang, Murphy's fantasy superhero; Culver is then deliberately uncomfortable, nearly painfully so, as Trent, so unaccustomed to human contact he retains his family's Chinese accent although born in San Francisco.

One is tempted to stand up after this banquet and indulge in a Chinese-American custom of reading fortune cookies aloud. Murphy tells us there are four types of fortunes in cookies: "complimentary, assumptive, persuasive, and good fortune." Here's a suggested one for the playwright that should combine the four: "Cut the expletives out of the script and retain crisper, more meaningful writing."

"Achievers," presented by ProperGander at the Century City Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 6:30 p.m. Oct. 5-Nov. 11 (no shows Oct. 26-28). $12-15. (323) 655-8587.

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