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A Lovelorn Struggle in East West ‘S.A.M.’

New playwright Garrett H. Omata has a promising flair for irony and comic situations, judging from his first produced work, “S.A.M. I Am” at East West Players. Thoughtfully drawing on the dating-scene foibles confronting the single Asian male, Omata traces the lovelorn path of his hero John Hamabata (Doug Yasuda), a shy restaurant assistant manager, as he courts a beautiful news writer (Joanne Takahashi) whose romantic ideal is Sam Shepard.

The importance of being Sam is paramount to John as he reinvents himself to win her favor, improbably becoming a best-selling author. Unfortunately, Omata’s follow-through is uneven--especially when his characters become mouthpieces for philosophical arguments that lose sight of a scene’s emotional dynamics. (John’s exaggerated callousness in the second act makes a point about fame but undermines sympathy for him).

In supporting roles, Cindy Cheung and Eddie Mui make an appealing earthy couple, and Heidi Helen Davis’ visually stylish staging eases the more awkward transitions.

* “S.A.M. I Am,” East West Players, 4424 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Feb. 26. $20. (213) 660-0366. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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