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‘A Majority of One’ has timeless ring

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A MAJORITY OF ONE, Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, through Oct. 4; 984-9000. Running time: 2 1/2 hours (one intermission).

WEST VALLEY CITY — Can a play written in 1959, dealing with the aftermath of World War II, remain relevant nearly half a century later?

Well, Leonard Spigelgass' Broadway hit, "A Majority of One," does.

The folks in Brooklyn are worried about "that kind" of people moving into the neighborhood. Then there are the show's two central characters — Mrs. Bertha Jacoby and Koichi Asano — who develop a warm relationship aboard a ship bound for Tokyo. (Jacoby is a Jewish widow; Asano is a textiles manufacturer in postwar Japan; both had children who died in the war.)

The tension and bias regarding "people of color" and nearly anyone of Japanese extraction explored in the play certainly has parallels today, when many are suspicious of people with Islamic or Middle Eastern connections.

Director John Adams has a finely honed, mostly single-cast ensemble that delivers the playwright's insightful, sometimes witty (but slightly barbed) dialogue perfectly.

Tamara Adams and Joey Miyashima give superb performances as Jacoby and Asano.

The friendship that develops between the two on the S.S. Leonard Wood's promenade deck the summer of 1958 is nearly torpedoed by Jacoby's son-in-law and daughter (Jerry and Alice Black, nicely played by Ryan J. Poole and Amy Dawn Addams). Are they more concerned that Asano will soon be involved with high-level conferences about Japanese imports — or that Mom is Jewish and Asano is Buddhist?

The Jacoby-Asano friendship gets off to a rocky start, because Bertha is still dealing with the loss of a son during the war. Then she learns that Asano lost both a son and daughter in the same conflict.

Among the secondary roles, Clara Susan Morey II is hilarious as Essie Rubin, Bertha's agitated neighbor; Seth Barney is terrific as Eddie, the Blacks' outspoken houseboy in Tokyo; and Andrew R. Looney does a comical spin as Capt. Norcross, a police investigator with a penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth.

The central theme is raised early in the first act, when Essie complains about "that element" taking over her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Jacoby's son-in-law quickly counters that "I seem to remember that in this very neighborhood, years ago, they didn't allow Jews. . . . The only way you can stop prejudice is to stop it in yourself."

But Jerry's speech comes back to haunt him in Act 3, when he and Alice confront Mom about how she and Asano are getting serious.

"I'd like to ask one simple question," Jacoby says, after her daughter attempts to explain away the earlier incident as merely theoretical. "Who's bigoted?"

In "A Majority of One," the dialogue is rich, and the message of tolerance is both gentle and powerful.

The frequent scene changes (there are five locales in the show's eight scenes) interrupt the continuity, but things should speed up as the crew gets more experience with the set changes.

E-MAIL: ivan@desnews.com