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Beauty in imperfection

Yohen examines race, regrets, and pottery in its portrait of a rocky marriage

Malcolm J. West and Aya Hashiguchi share a warm chemistry as a married couple looking to start anew. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

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Yohen takes its time revealing exactly what's going on with its two characters, James (Malcolm J. West) and Sumi (Aya Hashiguchi). While they speak as though they've known each other for many years, there's a hesitance to their interactions, a kind of nervous energy that feels slightly off. It takes until near the end of the play before either of them actually says what the situation is, but the audience is clued in along the way: after 37 years of marriage, Sumi grew frustrated with James and their stale relationship. Recently, in an effort to shake things up, Sumi sent James to live with a friend, urging him to come around and date her again with renewed purpose.

This is the sort of premise that can very easily result in wacky comedy, maybe even farce, but Yohen -- like many of the productions staged at the Dukesbay Theater -- has more on its mind than you might expect. Over the course of several "dates," we learn more and more about the lives of Sumi and James, who met while James was deployed in the Army. James, an African-American man, brought the Japanese Sumi home to the United States, and much of the conflict that's been simmering underneath their relationship is rooted in the sometimes uncomfortable melding of different cultures and races -- the realities of which might not be acknowledged for decades.

There's also the matter of James' drinking and pining for his earlier days as a boxer, Sumi's dissatisfaction with her soul-sucking office job, and her desire to go to school to learn about pottery (the show's title refers to a pottery term about finding beauty in imperfection). All of these details are meted out gradually, in the form of the sort of messy conversations that take place between two people who've loved each other for a long time. Along the way, James' stubbornness clashes with Sumi's unfocused desire for some kind of change to happen.

Yohen is presented with no intermission, on a simple set, with only these two characters and their predicament available to hold our attention. As such, the show, directed by Randy Clark, must be anchored by the strength of West and Hashiguchi's performances. Thankfully, both actors are more than up to the task, bringing a lived-in warmth and a pervading sense of melancholy to the table. West's blustery bravado pairs nicely with Hashiguchi's lightly concealed insecurity. While Hashiguchi has acted in many plays, over the years, this is her first time in a lead role, and she acquits herself well as the de facto heart of the show.

For such an intimate two-hander as this, West and Hashiguchi share a fine chemistry. While James and Sumi may have regrets, and are striving to find a greater meaning in the latter half of their lives, it becomes clear that one thing they don't regret is their decision to live their lives with each other. Yohen shows that their relationship is not broken, but rather imperfect, which can also be beautiful.

YOHEN, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 4, Dukesbay Theater, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma, $15-$25, 253.350.7680,

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