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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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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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