Thursday, February 26, 2009

Soul Samurai


By Qui Nguyen. Directed by Robert Ross Parker. Ma-Yi Theatre Company and Vampire Cowboys Theatre at HERE Arts Center. (CLOSED)

Ladies and gentleman, we present to you the best-reviewed show, and the first A grade, in Critic-O-Meter's admiteddly brief history. Critics find Vampire Cowboys' frenetic new mash-up of martial arts, blaxploitation, and graphic novels airtight and entertaining, with an ambitious use of multimedia and a literally kickass cast headed by the magnetic Maureen Sebastian. The play's irresistible urban argot inspired That Sounds Cool's Aaron Riccio to a pen charmingly slangy notice, including the first use of "sick" as a superlative I've ever read in a New York theater review.

Blog Critics A+
(Jon Sobel) Need to pump yourself full of urban adrenaline? Soul Samurai is one long, sustained blast of the stuff. With unflagging energy and nary an ounce of dramatic flab, playwright/fight director Qui Nguyen riffs on post-apocalyptic science fiction, Fangoria horror (specifically vampire lore), blaxploitation films, karate movies, samurai/ninja subcultures, and gangsta rap bravado....It's also sexy, and full of noisy joy...It has a youthful, athletic cast with more energy than a solar flare, and talent to match. A+
(Martin Denton) Has HIT written all over it. Savvy off-Broadway producers should be pushing each other out of the way to get to HERE Arts Center so that they can be the one to move what feels like the Next Big Thing in Theatre to the long commercial run it doesn't just deserve but commands...Offers a happy and rare combination of pop-culture-guilty pleasure and smart, sophisticated storytelling...All the innovations that Vampire Cowboys have been working on these past five years come together here in an evening that's loaded with energy, style, humor, intelligence, and a surprising amount of heart.

That Sounds Cool A+
(Aaron Riccio) Badassss...It'd be accurate to say that Soul Samurai is played to the hilt except that this group is working with a pure blade--nothing slows this show down...Something's always being flipped, which keeps Nguyen's fight choreography feeling fresh...Not only is it dazzlingly creative, but it's also never confusing: Sarah Laux and Jessica Wegener's sick costumes make it easy to distinguish bad guys from good guys, and Nick Francone's set and lighting make for clear, quick transitions from location to location (projections provide the details)...At last, Vampire Cowboys Theatre has found the right balance of action and adventure, creativity and control. Soul Samurai isn't just their best show, it's one of the best shows in the city, and until you see it, you'd better just shut yo' mouth.

Time Out NY A
(Helen Shaw) Explosively funny Foxy Brown–meets–Kill Bill goof. Shoguns and 70s style reign over a dark New York of the future, vampires infest Brooklyn and one woman takes revenge against the undead. Outfitted with stop-motion animation, awesome puppetry and a pimped-out wardrobe, Soul Samurai kicks the Vampire Cowboys recipe up a notch; the script has the complexity of a graphic novel, without sacrificing its zinelike homemade sweetness.

Village Voice A
(Andy Propst) It's smart and funny stuff that's deftly supported in Robert Ross Parker's sure-handed production, where Asian theater traditions are ably blended with Nguyen's exhilarating fight choreography. David Valentine's puppets and Nick Francone's intentionally cheesy videos are, like the rest of the show, side-splittingly funny and slyly intelligent.

Backstage A-
(Mark Peikert) Even if, unlike me, you don't have a fondness for petite women brandishing large weapons, Soul Samurai offers plenty of charm and entertainment. Equal parts 1970s samurai flick, blaxploitation, and post-apocalyptic NYC grit, it tells the tale of the meek and mild lesbian Dewdrop (Maureen Sebastian), who toughens up when her lover is killed by a gang of vampires running Brooklyn...Unfortunately, Nguyen, who also choreographed the riveting fight sequences, lets his play down when it comes to the climactic battle between Dewdrop and Lady Snowflake, giving us the evening's one uninteresting battle. That lapse is happily compensated for by the consistently clever use of multimedia...And boy, do those actors work...Soul Samurai, a glorious melting pot of influences and inspirations, is theatre at its best.

Theatermania A-
(Dan Balcazo) A pop culture explosion of influences ranging from comic books to Blaxploitation films, Qui Nguyen's Soul Samurai, now at HERE Arts Center, is a wildly funny, action-packed delight...The work is stylishly directed by Robert Ross Parker and showcases Nguyen's dynamic (and often hilarious) fight choreography...The piece both utilizes and subverts racial stereotypes through snappy dialogue (including a kind of parody of ebonics), larger than life mannerisms, and tongue-in-cheek satire. It includes plenty of plot twists and a variety of narrative strategies such as direct address, traditional dialogue scenes, lots of fights, flashback sequences, film and animation (directed by Parker and designed by Nick Francone, who is also responsible for sets and lighting), and short interludes that tell the origin stories of various key characters. My favorite is a puppet theater piece in which Sally tries to shut out the cries of the world--represented by an adorable and expressive puppet designed by David Valentine, and manipulated and voiced by Jon Hoche.

Offoffonline A-
(Samantha O'Brien) Vampire Cowboys have, once again, proven themselves masters of action-adventure theater...Even with such a dark premise, the show is infused with geeky glee. From the impromptu breakdancing to the witty battle banter and pop culture references, Samurai is ultimately a very playful presentation. Complementing the violent saga, there are puppets with Avenue Q-style attitude and other multimedia touches, such as a great stop-motion film about a forbidden love between a ninja and a samurai starring, naturally, pieces of fruit. All playing multiple roles, the five-person ensemble nails the goofy-yet-hip style of Nguyen’s script...The show seems just as much fun for the actors as the audience. You can’t even fault them when they break into an accidental chuckle...There are some weak spots in the show...However, small inconsistencies do not ruin what is overall an extremely exciting piece of theater. See Samurai before it’s too late.

Blog Critics A+ 14; A+ 14; That Sounds Cool A+ 14; Time Out NY A 13; American Theatre Web A 13; Backstage A- 12; Theatermania A- 12; Offoffonline A- 12; TOTAL: 104/8= 13 (A)

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