Observing a rehearsal of the Art of Life company’s upcoming production, “John-kun and Yoko-chan,” a famous line from the ’60s classic “Cool Hand Luke” springs to mind: “What we have here is failure to communicate.”

This is not because the play is unsuccessful: The actors are believable, the story is moving and engaging, and Yoko Narahashi directs with sensitivity and insight. The breakdown in communication is an inherent part of the play, which deals with the difficult territory of problems that confront two people in a racially mixed relationship. The play is set in Tokyo, where John has come to learn to make sushi so he can set up a kaiten-zushi shop in New York. Yoko is an illustrator of Japanese comic books. They meet by chance one night when John rescues Yoko from a drunk making heavy-handed passes at her. Subsequent scenes trace the progression of their relationship and the growth of their commitment, along with the various problems that arise due to their opposing cultural orientations. John is gregarious, childlike and openly affectionate. Yoko is reserved, serious and physically and emotionally tentative.

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