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    2008-2009 reviews:
  • Anaïs Nin Goes To Hell
  • beast: a parable
  • Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire
  • Blasted
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  • China: The Whole Enchilada
  • The Corn Maiden
  • Crawl, Fade to White
  • Doruntine
  • Extraordinary Rendition
  • The First Breeze of Summer
  • Fringe Festival 2008
  • Fringe Festival favorites
  • The Glass Cage
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  • Hidden Fees* (A Play About Money)
  • Jailbait
  • King of Shadows
  • The Longest Running Joke of the Twentieth Century
  • Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising
  • Macbeth
  • The Master Builder
  • Missa Solemnis, or The Play About Henry
  • Mourn the Living Hector
  • A Nasty Story
  • Nowadays
  • the october crisis (to laura)
  • Oresteia
  • Other Bodies
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  • Raised by Lesbians
  • Reasonable Doubt
  • Sleepwalk With Me
  • Small Craft Warnings
  • Something Weird . . . in the Red Room
  • Soul Samurai
  • The Sound of One Hanna Clapping
  • Southern Promises
  • The Third from the Left
  • Twelfth Night
  • Voices from Guantánamo
  • The Wendigo
  • Zombie


    Maureen Sebastian and Sheldon Best in Soul Samurai
    Photo by Jim Baldassare
    Maureen Sebastian and Sheldon Best

    Miso and Collard Greens

    Ma-Yi and Vampire Cowboys team up to bring us Qui Nguyen's new play, "Soul Samurai," a high-energy, violently funny mash-up of your favorite late-night genre flicks.


    To be quick and sexy like the show: "Soul Samurai," written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker, is a live-action "Kill Bill" with "Robot Chicken"-style humor. That's probably all you really need to know about Ma-Yi Theater Company in association with Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company's newest offering at HERE Arts Center. However, the piece really demands a plethora of other genre references, as it is largely a homage to artistic styles that have kicked ass in the past forty years.

    Company: Ma-Yi Theater Co..
    Written by: Qui Nguyen.
    Directed by: Robert Ross Parker.
    Cast: Sheldon Best, Jon Hoche, Maureen Sebastian, Bonnie Sherman, Paco Tolson..
    Sound design by: Sharath Patel.
    Set design by: Nick Francone.
    Costumes by: Sarah Laux and Jessica Wegener.
    Lighting design by: Nick Francone.
    Production stage manager: Lyndsey Goode.
    Puppet Design by: David Valentine.

    Related links: Official site
    145 Sixth Ave.
    Previews start: Feb. 14, 2009
    Feb. 19 - March 15, 2009

    As for other films, I should probably mention "The Warriors," since the plot mostly follows the heroine, Dewdrop's, revenge-driven journey back and forth from Manhattan to Coney Island. Instead of hundreds of crazy gangs, each borough is ruled by a shogun who inserts considerable stylistic influence over his denizens. Notably, the "Longtooths" of Brooklyn have a penchant for tooth-like bandannas over their faces. Also, as the play mixes in hip-hop culture and blaxploitation, I should probably mention the show's frequent references to "Shaft" but I won't, as someone told me to shut my mouth.

    In general, the mix of genre and reference to media works wonderfully. It only falls short when trying to depict iconic film shots, such as the heroine running into the camera. The reference is immediately understood, but in these cases, the audience is reminded how film can trump live theater.

    Bonnie Sherman, Sheldon Best, and Jon Hoche in Soul Samurai  
    Photo by Jim Baldassare  
    Bonnie Sherman, Sheldon Best, and Jon Hoche
    Manga also rears its head, but really more-so in the comic book visual prequel to "Soul Samurai," available on the show's website. Interestingly, the play does pick up at the moment the manga stops. The prequel comic detracts from the show's initial impact, as the art-style is an unpolished and crude mix between Japanese and American art styles. It doesn't at all relate the actual quality of the show itself. However, the prequel manga does show what the production keeps offstage: the actual lopping off of heads. While this seems to be a small detail, it drastically affects a viewer's understanding of the line between the living and the dead in post-World War III New York.

    The production also features film "interludes" between some of the acts. Besides being pretty darn hilarious, the interludes really bring out the overall nostalgia of youth culture that permeates the production. Grown-ups play with action figures and puppets that flip the bird. Fruit are sweet on each other in a style reminiscent of Sesame Street stop-animation. These interludes go a long way in opening up the structure of the piece to allow things that do not necessarily belong to the plot, which in turn makes the frequent manipulation of time within the live-action sequences more tenable.

      "Soul Samurai" isn't going to make you cry. It also isn't going to make you think too hard. It will make you laugh, however...
    Probably the best thing about this show is that it allows actors to act. Each performers takes on at least three characters, and in some cases, many more. Paco Tolson, who primarily plays the sidekick Cert, created some truly unique and memorable characters that more than flesh-out the text. Sheldon Best, who plays Boss 2K, among others, actually fooled me into thinking he was more than one person for the first half hour of the show. The lead, Maureen Sebastian, shines in the fight scenes and flashbacks. Jon Hoche burns in the memory as a particularly sexually unsettling priest. Bonnie Sherman has perhaps the most difficult role, as she must play the considerably malleable ingénue through her ten-year development. Her character is a bit more disjointed than perhaps necessary, but it is understandable considering the reveals her role requires.

    Maureen Sebastian and Sheldon Best in Soul Samurai  
    Photo by Jim Baldassare  
    Maureen Sebastian and Sheldon Best
    Lighting and set designer, Nick Francone, and director Parker, admirably took on the challenges of the HERE theater space. Instead of ignoring the annoying structural support beams, this team used them in ways that didn't make it feel like a hindrance. At times, the beams and columns even contributed to a cinematic framing of the space.

    "Soul Samurai" isn't going to make you cry. It also isn't going to make you think too hard. It will make you laugh, however, and that is probably worth the $25 ($20 if student or senior) admission price. I personally would take a straight man who typically doesn't like theater, or doesn't think he does, to see this show — a cunning ploy that might just change his mind.

    FEBRUARY 27, 2009

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