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There are so many delightful ingredients in this production that it is a disappointment to relate that the soufflé never rises. This disappointment is due entirely to the uneven nature of Naomi Iizuka's play. The first act is intriguing and intelligent and ends with a thrillingly perfect moment, which makes the audiences eager for the second act. Unfortunately the potential of Act One is squandered in Act Two, where plot twists flying fast and furious lead to an unlikely and unsatisfying result. With that said, director Chay Yew does a terrific job, and the fine cast excels.

Art historian Setsuko Hearn (Tess Lina) isn't sure what to make of art dealer Darius Wheeler (Stephen Caffrey). He's successful but controversial, charming but possibly criminal. She's fascinated, however, when Darius' assistant John (Jim Anzide) brings a possible new acquisition to her attention: a courtesan's "pillow book" from Japanese antiquity. Setsuko believes it is an important historical discovery and is thrilled, but—just as in the "36 Views" of Japanese artist Hokusai, where 46 paintings of the same mountain reveal 46 different viewpoints—things are not always as they seem.

Lina is fine as Setsuko, but the character as written is a bit stiff. Caffrey is so good he makes us wish the entire play was about his character. Anzide and Melody Butiu are exceptional, but his character is underwritten, and hers is ultimately unbelievable. Rounding out the cast, John Apicella and Shannon Holt offer solid performances, but their characters seem to exist merely to move plot points forward. The entire production looks great, but Lydia Tanji's costume design deserves special mention, from the chic clothes of many of the characters to the resplendent series of kimonos worn by the figures in the pillow-book storyline.

"36 Views," presented by and at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tue.-Fri. 8 pm, Sat. 2 & 8 pm, Sun. 2 & 7 pm Jan. 1-30. $45-52. (949) 497-2787.

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