New Traditions

Culturally based theatre isn't an atypical genre, certainly not in Southern California. What makes it successful most of the time is an informative standard that is appropriately reverential but just humorous enough to keep things from getting preachy or clouded. Director John Miyasaki and his multitalented ensemble have created and developed a production that struggles to find this balance in content and tech. Things start off nicely with a tale of an Asian woodcutter (Benjamin Kim), who encounters a deer (the incredibly versatile Carolina Espiro) and marries a forest fairy (Joana Perey). Thanks to Julia Cho's expertly delivered narration, we learn why wolves howl at a full moon.

Following this contemplative piece is "M. Saigon," Jason Rogel's showstopping medley of various female musical-theatre roles he's always wanted to play. Rogel hilariously whisks us through snippets from Rent, Les Misérables, and Miss Saigon, which features Dennis Perez's quite literal turn as a human helicopter. These two opening sections set a very high bar, at best touched only briefly throughout the rest of the performance.

Act 1 includes clunky commentaries on America's worldwide military travails and struggles with bilingualism. Then there's a mildly funny yet rather incomprehensible sketch that involves three quirky waiters. Fortunately, Espiro and Ricky Pak get things back on track with "Fireflies," a heart-tugging reflection on death and loss. Act 1 concludes nicely with a freestyle dance displaying Asian, Hispanic, and Native American influences, accenting the statement "I am but one sentence in the history of my people."

Post-intermission offerings fluctuate wildly as well. Observations on the Tiananmen Square massacre and America's forced colonization of Hawaii, as well as the recounting of each cast member's family customs are exactly what make most of this production so engaging. Unfortunately, a scene involving America's fascination with designer-clothing labels and an embarrassingly bad burlesque bit with a lingerie-clad doctor fall flat. Likewise, the entire cast concludes the evening with a muddied piece related to age and dying. The intent is admirably obvious but highlights the need for editing.

Presented by hereandnow theatre company and Teatro Nueva Alma at the Armory Northwest,

865 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena.

Sat. 8 p.m. Jun. 30-Sep. 1.

(626) 375-5219.