The Vampire Cowboys and the Amoralists are two companies that put on work that I always make a point to see no matter what. Currently, they have two shows up that have again reminded me why.
Although tickets for both of these shows are going fast (and are maybe already gone), if you haven't checked out the Vampire Cowboys' The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G or the Amoralists' Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter, you need to rectify that as soon as possible.
Although radically different shows, they both mark turning points for each company, revealing the Cowboys and Amoralists branching out in new directions. What's even more interesting is that while you could technically call Agent G a sequel, it's still like nothing writing-directing team Qui Nguyen and Robert Ross Parker has ever made before. And with Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter (which features a whole news cast of actors not found in previous Amoralists shows), writer-director Derek Ahonen tones it down a notch, but doesn't make his play any less fun and engaging than his previous works.
Agent G tells two intersecting stories. In one, Paco Tolson plays Hung, a James Bond-esque secret agent who has to return to his native country of Vietnam to connect with and confront the daughter of the man he killed while on his way to America (this part of the story was originally told in Qui's first-ever play, Trial By Water). Meanwhile, William Jackson Harper plays playwright Qui Nguyen, who wants to tell the story of his cousin's journey from Vietnam to America, but feels hamstrung by the conventions of theatre as well as by his own brand of genre and stage combat theatre-making.
Sure, it has fun stage combat scenes, cinematic motorcycle chase sequences, and sing-a-longs with giant puppets, but Qui—both the writer and character—reveals that these elements ring false for this story, which is deeply personal for both him and his family. Even Trial By Water, according to Qui—which the Cowboys didn't stage—had too many artificial constructs (such as a villain). With Agent G, the Vampire Cowboys get the Charlie Kaufman treatment.
In Daughter, a lesbian couple's relationship is rapidly deteriorating, due in no small part to their daughter Garance being on the run, wanted for murdering—and eating—a series of housewives. Their phone rings off the hook from anonymous callers wishing death on them. Where the hell did they go wrong? Or more importantly, what the hell can they do about it now?
Jackie's (Anna Stromberg) answer apparently, is to drink herself to death. Contessa's (Mara Lileas) response seems to be to enable Jackie while burrowing deeper into quiet tearful despair.
Before the couple has time to completely implode upon itself, Contessa's long-lost half-brother, Dexel (Jordan Tisdale) shows up at their doorstep. And without revealing too much here, we soon discover that Dexel and Contessa have been estranged for very good reasons.
And of course, eventually, the alleged cannibal-murderer finally returns home.
I admired the way Daughter still had that intense energy often found in Derek's shows, but bottled it for the most part, allowing the story to unfold slowly, and allowing its actors to engage in long silences. Despite it being a surreal black comedy—yes, I realize I've made the above sound very dour and morose, but it is a very funny show—there were still plenty of moments for quiet and tender scenes. I also found Daughter to live up to the company's name more than any other play I've seen by them—we've got some seriously damaged goods in this show, including a confessed rapist, yet they're all thoroughly sympathetic, likable and endearing.
I should also point out that the casts in both plays—mostly Cowboys vets in Agent G, all fresh faces in Daughter—are of course excellent.
The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G and Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter are both incredibly surefooted works by incredibly talented writers and directors ready and able to expand from whence they came. Even though these shows didn't surprise me in terms of ability and enjoyment, they definitely surprised me in terms of tone and content. These veteran companies show they're not afraid to take risks and try different things, even this late in the game.
Both plays—and companies—remind me why I love theatre.
The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G is playing at Incubator Arts Project on 131 East 10th Street until April 16. For tickets go directly to the box office.
Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter is playing as PS 122 on 150 First Avenue until April 24. For tickets go here.
Getting tasered for fun,
James "Public Menace" Comtois