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Originally published Friday, June 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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"Namaste Man" goes from Nepal to New York with some bumps on the way

He has acted in scores of plays, in cities around the U.S., including Seattle. But Andrew Weems has not tackled anything like the role...

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater review

"Namaste Man"

By Andrew Weems, plays Tuesdays-Sundays through June 22 at Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$48 (206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org).

He has acted in scores of plays, in cities around the U.S., including Seattle. But Andrew Weems has not tackled anything like the role he plays in "Namaste Man."

Wait — make that the 40 roles Weems juggles, and so nimbly, in this solo, autobiographical play, including those of writer and star.

A compact, wispy-haired scamp of middle years but puckish vitality, Weems leads us on a careening tour in this Intiman Theatre world premiere. His main destinations: Katmandu, Nepal (where Weems spent four years of his youth) and New York City (where he resides now).

En route, under Bartlett Sher's lively direction, Weems adroitly cameos travelers from Australia and a would-be theater impresario from India; Nepali Sherpas and 1950s pop crooners; his cheerful engineer-turned-diplomat dad and melancholy, Boston-bred mother.

Weems also mimics to perfection a pair of miniature dachshunds, a monkey eating beetle nuts, and his first schoolboy crush, Jessica.

A fine showcase for the art of the multidexterous character actor, "Namaste Man" also aspires to be something more: a coming-of-age study of cultural clash and displacement. But it needs a shapelier, more focused dramatic arc to achieve that ambition.

In its current form, "Namaste Man" begins weakly, with Weems in a New York funk, repeatedly proclaiming how "lost" he is — geographically and otherwise. The 90-minute show also has difficulty ending, circling round itself for the right final anecdote and image.

In between, though, there is much to appreciate, to marvel and laugh at, with Weems as our winningly befuddled, highly observant and rigorously candid guide.

On a set by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, littered with slabs of corrugated metal, statues of Buddha, suitcases, prayer flags and many flickering votive candles, Weems evokes for us the pungent smells, sights and sounds of Katmandu.

He brings us on a childhood swimming expedition, during which he bumped into a charred corpse floating down a holy river.

He invites us to a convivial Americans-abroad Christmas party, where a turkey shipped halfway around the world is consumed.

Through Weems' eyes (and a backdrop set aglow by Greg Sullivan's lighting) we spot the white-coned, Himalayan peak of Langtang Lirung, and go on a grueling school trek to it.

Most mirthfully, we get a whirlwind account of an amateur Katmandu production of "A Thousand Clowns," in which a terrified young Weems makes his acting debut alongside stage-struck Indian and English diplomats.

Weems' impressionistic memoir also affords a bittersweet paean to his mother. She dutifully schleps her brood to exotic foreign postings, but in her Katmandu living room, with Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra on the stereo, she longs for home.

The question of what and where "home" is, for an American raised partly in Korea and Zambia, as well as Nepal, arises often in "Namaste Man." (The title is a Nepali salutation, meaning both hello and goodbye.)

"Home" is a fairly abstract notion to ponder. And the less Weems verbalizes it, the more directly engaging the show is.

Watching Weems work his actor's alchemy is a treat in itself. But "Namaste Man" is still scattered where it should be supple. It merits another draft, one in which Weems says "goodbye" to extraneous side trips, and maps out more clearly the journey he wants to take us on.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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