Monday, February 23, 2009

Soul Samurai

Zombie films. Superhero comics. Sci-fi adventure flicks. With each new show, the Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company tackles a new pulp fanboy genre or subgenre with zeal and relish. This year, the Cowboys have taken elements from '70s blaxploitation films (Black Belt Jones, Blackula, Shaft), the video game-like cult movie The Warriors and, of course, martial arts movies, to create Soul Samurai, which is 100 minutes of pure unadulterated fun.

Once again written and choreographed by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker (the company's creators and co-artistic directors), Soul Samurai follows the trials and tribulations of Dewdrop (Maureen Sebastian), a once wallflower but now deadly samurai assassin, as she travels the streets and abandoned subway tunnels of a post-apocalyptic gang-run New York to avenge the death of her lover, Sally December (Bonnie Sherman).

As Dewdrop mows down, and is hunted by, various gang members and gang leaders, she unwillingly acquires an annoying yet surprisingly resourceful sidekick, Cert (Paco Tolson). Her main target of revenge: Boss 2K (Sheldon Best), overlord of the most feared gang in Brooklyn (and probably all of New York, for that matter). Jon Hoche also appears in many roles throughout ranging from a disgruntled gang member, to the leader of an underground (literally) religious group to a very angry puppet.

Many fights, chases, revelations and confrontations with angry puppets ensue.

One of the (many) things I loved about Soul Samurai is how Qui's script jumps back and forth through time more often than a Quentin Tarantino film. The show opens with Dewdrop exacting revenge on Boss 2K (seriously, folks, I've spoiled nothing: it's the first scene in the play), and then jumps back and forth from how she and other characters got to that place to the aftermath of her actions.

Rather than create a jumbled mess, the end result is a taut and exciting story with an expansive mythology (there's a particularly fascinating and engaging way the show slowly and steadily deals with the origin story of one character, which I won't reveal here). There are also scenes of particular poignancy and darkness that separates Soul Samurai from the realm of '70s exploitation film parodies that just get off on the jive-talking slang and afros.

Everyone involved - Robert & Qui, the cast, the designers (Nick Francone on set & lights, Sharath Patel on sound, Sarah Laux and Jessica Wegener on costumes, Ashley Ryan on wigs & hair and David Valentine on puppets) - does an outstanding job here and deserves kudos. I should also point out that according to the program there are 19 characters in this show, which has a cast of five, which is impressive to say the least.

Just as George Lucas did with the original Star Wars (seriously, folks, I don't want to get into a debate about the sequels and prequels, so can we all just agree how kick ass the 1977 original is?) and Tarantino does with his films, the Vampire Cowboys manage to create truly new and original mythologies and compelling stories based on the spare parts of other works. Sure, there are elements of pastiche here. But Qui, Robert & Co. clearly know the difference between homage and rip-off.

Every year I always look forward to the latest Vampire Cowboys show the way a young child looks forward to Christmas. And unlike some Christmases, the Cowboys never disappoint. I'm definitely going to see Soul Samurai again before it closes.

Soul Samurai runs at the HERE Arts Center on 145 Sixth Avenue until March 15. Get your tickets here.

Flipping off puppets,

James "Jive-Ass Turkey" Comtois

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw it on Saturday. Motherfucking awesome.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm so glad you wrote this, as i was considering a Star Wars/Joseph Campbell/Hero with 1000 Faces angle myself but instead settled on umberto eco and cliches. either way, this show rocks!

4:05 AM  

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