Yak cheese. Bing Crosby. Cow dung. Hepatitis. For years, actor Andrew Weems scrawled down the sights and sounds of his childhood spent as a State Department brat bouncing from South Korea to Zambia to Virginia to Nepal. But it wasn't until Weems met Bartlett Sher, former artistic director of Seattle's Intiman Theatre, that his vivid, startling memories found their way to the stage. Weems premiered Namaste Man at the Intiman in June 2008, and last weekend, he opened the play for the second time to a mostly full house at BCT.
On a warmly lit stage scattered with toys and trinkets, Weems--a short, animated 40-something given to making rubbery Robin Williams-like facial contortions--set the scene. It's Christmas in New York City and he has stumbled across a Nepalese man hawking tchotchkes. Suddenly, Weems is a child back in Kathmandu with his father, a straightforward U.S. State Department engineer with a Dubya accent, and his mother, a gentle Bostonian whom everyone called Mable.
Weems hops around, sometimes confusingly, from one memory to another--Himalayan hikes with his hippie ex-pat teachers, bumping into a bloated, charred corpse while splashing in a river, his mom listening to Nat King Cole on vinyl, "boiling alive" while tripping on hepatitis--all the while weaving in glimpses of his present life as an actor in New York City. And while his stories are engaging, packed with bright colors, pungent smells and crazy characters whom Weems mimics with spot-on accents, they never quite coalesce into a solid whole. The whole thing ends up feeling a tad indulgent.
Through all of his recollections, it's Weems' depictions of his folks that ring most true. Though Weems doesn't sugarcoat his memories, he also doesn't seem to pass judgment.
"To me, there's really three ghosts ..." said Weems in an interview with Seattle's KPLU radio. "One is this beautiful country of Nepal where I grew up in the 1970s, and the other two are these fascinating, incredible people who were my parents, who are now both gone."
BCT's production of Namaste Man is well-oiled--with Peter John Still's punctuating sound design floating in at all the right moments--but the show suffers from an overall disjointedness. Unlike Lauren Weedman's one-woman show No, You Shut Up, Namaste Man doesn't feel quite at home on the BCT stage. Maybe that's because Weems is still figuring out exactly where home is.