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THEATER REVIEW: “How I Got That Story” is a tour de force for two

Can you cover a war zone like Vietnam without getting caught up in it or becoming part of the story yourself?

Amlin Gray’s “How I Got That Story” considers that question, as the newly arrived Reporter (Brian Bielawski) picks up his press card from new boss Kingsley (Greg Watanabe) in the Am-bo Land offices of TransPanGlobal.

Mo’olelo Production Company presents “How I Got That Story” through March 18 at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.

The naive reporter thinks that Am-bo Land (Gray’s name for ‘Nam) is “everyplace ... It’s what the world is like. If I just keep my eyes wide open I can understand the whole world.”

His first lesson comes from Kingsley, who explains that Am-bo Land’s struggle is between tyrant Madame Ing (Watanabe) and guerrillas who want to bring her government down. He also points out that the media is dependent on Ing for both the permission and technological capability to send their reports from the palace.

“Madame Ing is very sensitive to how she’s viewed from overseas,” Kingsley tells the newbie.

Out on the street, the sight of a monk’s self-immolation tests the Reporter’s objectivity, as will subsequent events, until he finds himself caught up in – and driven close to crazy by – this ultimately unknowable country.

“How I Got That Story” is a tour de force two-hander in which Bielawski’s Reporter meets some 20 characters in Am-bo Land, all played by Watanabe, who also does all the sound effects.

Bielawski is utterly convincing as the eager-beaver reporter who learns from this confusing place what many correspondents already know: that a reporter may go to cover a country and find that the country covers him.

And what can I say about Watanabe? What a performance! Twenty characters (every one engaging and believable, even the women), too many sound effects to mention, even singing an old Rolling Stones favorite.

David F. Weiner’s raised set with newspaper headlines along the front (spotlighted now and again to coordinate with the onstage action) serves nicely to indicate the ambiguity of the confusing situation being played out.

Fine tech work by George Yé (whose fine sound design uses recorded and live sound effects provided by Watanabe) and Stephen Terry whose lighting is by turns nightmarish and strangely peaceful add to the unsettled atmosphere.

Kudos also to costume designer Jeannie Galioto, who had to produce costumes that Watanabe could get into and out of in about two seconds.

My lone cavil – that the ending does not seem plausible – does not change my admiration for this fine production. Bravo to Director Seema Sueko and her splendid team for this excellent show.

And if you leave, as I did, pondering these despairing words from The Reporter, so much the better: “All I found out as a reporter was I’d never find out anything.”

The details

“How I Got That Story” runs through March 18 at Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinee Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 342-7395 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.