Paco Tolson and Maureen Sebastian
in Soul Samurai
(© Jim Baldassare)
Paco Tolson and Maureen Sebastian
in Soul Samurai
(© Jim Baldassare)
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. Co-presented by Ma-Yi Theater and Vampire Cowboys Theater Company, the work is stylishly directed by Robert Ross Parker and showcases Nguyen's dynamic (and often hilarious) fight choreography.

Set in an alternate reality New York City overrun by gangs and divided into fiefdoms, it tells the story of woman warrior Dewdrop (Maureen Sebastian), who is out to avenge the death of her female lover, Sally December (Bonnie Sherman). Accompanied by her sidekick Cert (Paco Tolson), she sets out to kill Boss 2K (Sheldon Best), who controls Brooklyn with his gang, the Long Tooths.

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.

The hard-working cast of five all play multiple roles. And while the characterizations are often intentionally broad, the actors commit wholeheartedly to them. Sebastian is sexy and agile as Dewdrop, and amusingly portrays her younger, nerdier self in the flashbacks. Tolson is the comic standout, provoking peals of laughter with a grin that just won't quit, spot-on timing, and devastatingly funny line deliveries.

The costumes by Sarah Laux and Jessica Wegener are a mish-mash of 1970s-style outfits, Asian influences, and something you might see in a video game. Sharath Patel's sound design provides an energetic soundtrack to the action, particularly in a training montage and the final battle sequence.

Admittedly, there are aspects of the script that don't really hold up to close scrutiny. For example, while guns are mentioned, no one ever uses one -- which seems odd for a society dominated by street gangs and turf warfare. Also, the origin story for Boss 2K is missing some rather crucial information. Still, these small details shouldn't spoil your enjoyment of an otherwise fabulously entertaining evening.