VACT Cowboy vs. Samurai reviews

Published on Vancouver
Bright, oddball Cowboy skewers stereotypes

Cowboy Versus Samurai
By Michael Golamco. Directed by Josette Jorge. A Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, July 29. Continues until August 3

Cowboy Versus Samurai is a funny, lively production that puts a new twist on a familiar story of hidden love.

Chester and Travis are the only two Asian Americans in the tiny town of Breakneck, Wyoming, until Veronica Lee arrives to teach at the school where Travis teaches English. He is immediately smitten but doesn't have the nerve to declare his feelings for Veronica, who has told him that she's only attracted to white men. In a contemporary Cyrano de Bergerac story, Travis ends up writing a series of love letters with which Del–the school's white, dope-smoking, redneck phys-ed. teacher–successfully woos Veronica.

Los Angeles playwright Michael Golamco creates appealing characters while skewering Asian icons and stereotypes (Chester prays to Bruce Lee) along with the prejudices that perpetuate them (one local greets Travis, who is of Korean descent, with "Hey Jap, go back to China!").

Under Josette Jorge's direction, Cowboy Versus Samurai features the most consistent acting I've seen in a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre production, with the cast bringing clarity and a buoyant energy to their eccentric characters. Minh Ly has great fun with Chester's wacky radicalism–he wants to boycott the local grocery store for not carrying tofu, and the neighbourhood bar for the lack of Asian imports in its beer selection–without tipping too far into caricature. Ryan Swanson brings a natural charm to Del's unapologetic ignorance (he uses dumb as a noun, as in, "I'm such a stupid dumb"), and Lissa Neptuno's Veronica is a little fireball with personality to spare. Only Marc Arboleda's performance as Travis feels a bit too deliberate. Granted, he's playing the straight man in a cast of oddballs, but there's room for him to loosen up.

Ben Stone and Anna Busch offer live country tunes on piano and guitar, in a handsome barroom setting in one corner of Nicole Deslauriers's otherwise minimalist set. It's a touch that adds a warm, homey texture to the world of the play. I'm not sure I'd want to spend any time in a real-life Breakneck, but this production makes it a pleasant place to pass a couple of hours.
Cowboy Versus Samurai - NEW VENUE & SHOW DATES
by Elana Chan

What happens when a hip Asian American woman moves to a little town in Wyoming?  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but her arrival turns the lives of three men upside down.  Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT) presents Cowboy vs Samurai – a modern comedic play written by Michael Golamco and directed by Josette Jorge.  Elana Chan of CJSF Radio watched the opening performance at the Firehall Arts Centre on July 20, 2007.

Golamco’s script of Cowboy Versus Samurai is witty and quick-paced.  At the Canadian premiere show by VACT, the actors appear to be speaking as if running a marathon, while tactfully making recoveries when they step over their lines.  It is full of comedic cultural references.   In one instance, an Asian character was accused of helping his “white” friend getting a date with an Asian woman.  His offense was being “a Chinese waiter handing him a fork.”  These are contrasted with revealing and straight-to-the-heart comment including, “It doesn’t matter if we are black or white or Asian or anything.  We are all just people.  Confused people.”

It was satisfying to see that Cowboy Versus Samurai is not just about race, but also about finding and creating and one’s own identity.  Every character desperately tries to be heard and to be accepted by others, and more importantly, to find common ground with someone who can understand them.

Almost all the cast and crew are talents who studied and currently work in the Lower Mainland, bringing characters to life convincingly.  Notable was Minh Ly, who plays an adopted child and the only Asian growing up in this western town.  He is constantly trying to find pieces of Asian cultures to define his own identity, which includes ninja attires and prayers to Bruce Lee – as he desperately searches for an “Asian” role model and loudly expresses the struggle that all the characters are having with finding their own ‘true’ identities.

Director Josette Jorge stirred-fried together a lively cast with subtle live music and minimal set and lighting.  Ben Stone plays the guitar, with Anna Bush on the piano, while both sing as bar owners/musicians as part of the story.  They sit on the side of the stage dimly light, yet not invisible.  This adds a casual, western touch to the atmosphere that makes a distinctive impression on the audience.

Cowboy Versus Samurai is one of those stories that features our everyday, mundane moments, and puts them under a microscope to allow us to sit back and find the humour in our own lives.  Visit VACT’s website at www.vact.caCowboy Versus Samurai is playing at the Firehall Arts Centre until August 3, 2007, with a closing night reception.  Come if you dare to laugh out loud as talented actors engage in charades of the biggest dilemmas for human beings.

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Copyright 2007, Roger W. Tang

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