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Dude comes up to you on a street in Little Italy. He's got the sniffles, and not the Kleenex kind, if yunnerstan what I'm sayin. He assembles strangers into a group. Says he needs our help. Why? Because we're so nondescript no one'd ever suspect us of anything!

Well, at least some of us hoped we were, I don't know, more descript?

But anyway...We tail the guy up the street to a hotel. On the way he's so paranoid he hides his face when cars go by - even when a jet swoops down to Lindbergh Field. Then he says, "act natural," and suddenly that's nearly impossible.

In part because we're the audience for a walking/mystery tour of Little Italy. We follow clues like a cluster of ducks, lost and waddling up - no down! - the streets. We're looking for our next contact to give us much needed information. Without which, we're stuck. Act natural? Not hardly.

Accomplice: San Diego is part of the La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls (WOW) series of site-specific events. One of its best parts: it thrusts you into Clue-Mode. You look at people differently. Everyone in Little Italy becomes a suspect, from families in town to celebrate spring break to late afternoon, al fresco patrons of local dining establishments, to a construction worker reading what? The Great Gatsby?

You try to act natural while you inspect every passing face a second, maybe even three, longer than in "real life." Two questions frame your search: are you our next evil guide (since they're all shady); and are you for real or an actor?

You must pay attention because some of the clues are tricky.

We went to gardens behind restaurants. Those who still get to imbibe had a beer overlooking the shining San Diego Bay. We even stopped near three palm trees shaped in a W just like the one in the movie, It's A Mad Mad World.

As we wended our way, the group bonded. We had to figure out which photo or symbol pointed in the right direction. By the end, each member made a valuable contribution (even me; okay, even my ink pen, when note-taking was necessary).

The group almost became like characters in an improvisational drama: Oscar the designated driver; Camille the insightful; Bruce the tight-lipped skeptic; Jeff, sidetracked by non-clues: myriad geraniums in bloom, the diversity of architectural styles, the intoxication of Italian food.

The trip, in the end, is a goodly hike (and an eye-opening tour of the historic site which has enjoyed amazing growth in the last two decades). Its success will depend on individual groups and their willingness to become accomplices not in a crime, but in setting a criminal even freer.

I'll keep mum about specifics, except to say that one of the actors was so convincingly homeless that when he approached our group for a handout I looked in his eyes, questioned genuine intent, and gave him one.

Also that actor John Rosen gives such a creepy performance he almost...no wait! Enough!


La Jolla Playhouse, Little Italy, Tuesday through Sunday, performances every half hour (someone from the playhouse will contact you about time and place).

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