Singer-actress Nobuko Miyamoto spent much of her early career in the peripheral haze of Asian stereotypes--playing spies, maids and concubines in films and television, crooning soft pop ballads in lounge acts and dancing her way through "Flower Drum Song" on Broadway. As she mischievously observes in "A Grain of Sand," her solo performance piece at Los Angeles Theatre Center, it was the artistic equivalent of chop suey--Chinese food for white people. "Not too strange, not too spicy, and please--not too real."
Reality, however, proves infinitely more satisfying for both performer and audience in this well-crafted multimedia showcase. Miyamoto's sometimes witty, sometimes sobering and always insightful reflections on her Asian American experience span a generation's worth of evolving sensibilities.
Maintaining a delicate balance between narrowly detailed personal history and broader social context, Miyamoto employs song, narrative and an inventive visual mix of Asian aesthetics and modern technology to advance her theme. Anne Etue's crisp direction honors her star's formidable talents in each medium.
While this story of her life as an artist and activist is steeped in prejudice, opposition and tragedy, there isn't a trace of bitterness in Miyamoto's open invitation to share her hard-won recognitions and fulfillments. The rousing finale never stoops to sentimental platitudes--she's earned her happy ending.
* "A Grain of Sand," Los Angeles Theatre Center Theatre 4, 514 Spring St., Los Angeles. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 25. $13. (213) 485-1681. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.