Stopped by HERE Arts Center last night to see SOUL SAMURAI, the newest creation of The Vampire Cowboys, co-produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company.
If you're at all familiar with Qui Nguyen's work (previously I've seen only one of the larger pieces, MEN OF STEEL and some short pieces) you'll know what to expect. On stage, as always, is a hodgepodge of fandom, inventiveness and pop-genre. Here, we're fully in 'blacksplotiation" territory, replete with Afros, liberal use of the word "muthafucka" and hip-hop.
Of course, this is all through a modern lense, working in lesbians, Asian-American culture and contemporary flavors. The plot plays out exactly as you might expect if you're a fan of this type of genre fiction. Qui also clearly knows his Campbell Hero's Journey stuff: you've got a relatively tame character, forced into action, on a journey of personal growth, with challenges along the way, gatekeepers and mentors and even a loveable clownish sidekick.
What I think is so infectious about the shows that the Vampire Cowboys produce is the palpable sense of joy. Most downtown theater has its sense of self-importance, cruel irony and self-conscious poetry turned up to 11. (I am guilty of this.) You won't get much of that sort of introspection watching SOUL SAMURAI. Instead, the focus is on crowd-pleasing, wit, and splash. It's got more in common with a musical, with set pieces and montages and fights where one might expect to see a stirring dance number.
It's a wild night.
One side note: Both in MEN OF STEEL and in SOUL SAMURAI, I can't overstate just how absolutely fantastic Paco Tolson is. This actor can just do no wrong within this style. Its one of those great instances where the actor and the material just seem to be in love with each other. The cast is unformly excellent, without a doubt, but I wanted to take a second and send him my appreciation. Go see him before tickets to see him get more expensive.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.