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Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - Page updated at 04:55 PM

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Theater Review

Trio uses bad words for good message in "N*W*C"

Special to The Seattle Times

The title of the three-man show "N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK" presents something of a problem for those wishing to recommend it in polite company; it features, as one cast member puts it, "the granddaddy of all bad words," followed by two only-slightly-lesser-known offenders.

But not to worry. If you need to refer to the controversial show (now at Kirkland Performance Center) you can use the polite elision "N*W*C."

Of course, the provocateurs of "N*W*C" — one each of African-American, Ecuadorean and Filipino heritage — are not so delicately inclined. Their opening act is a spoken-word beat that features only those three words, in quick and prolonged repetition. The effect is (what else?) funny, the way many things that make us uncomfortable tend to be.

Now playing

"N*W*C@," produced by Speak Theater Arts, through Sunday at Kirkland Performance Center, 350 Kirkland Ave., Kirkland; $26 (425-893-9900 or www.kpcenter.org).

A compilation of personal memoir, free association and poetry, "N*W*C" relies heavily on that humor effect to ease the passage of their pejorative-riddled message.

The responsible trio, Miles Gregley, Rafael Agustin and Allan Axibal (college friends from Los Angeles who co-wrote the show with directors Liesel Reinhart and Steven T. Seagle), are in Kirkland as part of a tour, a kind of "take back the language" national offensive. Costumed in the uniforms of their stereotype, they mock and pry at expectations, repeating the titular words soon and often.

But they are gentle rabble rousers, administering their antidote to PC with a sugary helping of optimism for that singular race we call human.

Aside from the three title words, in fact, there isn't much to disagree with in "N*W*C." The trio share the personal experience of being a minority with grace and wit, and they deliver even their worst language thoughtfully. The language, ultimately, seems secondary.

Their prescription is simple: Acknowledge cultural differences alongside individuality, and focus on what unifies us. Though, as certain celebrity examples show us (ahem, Michael Richards), the reality is often not so simple. Alas, the hard questions may not be totally answerable as a comedy.

Leah B. Green: trystero44@aol.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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