Epic swordfights, flesh-eating monsters, and gay-relationship angst: It's all fair game for Vampire Cowboys. For over a decade the Obie Award-winning company has been producing quality work off-off-Broadway, liberally borrowing from our modern mythology of comic books and action heroes. Their latest adventure, Qui Nguyen's Six Rounds of Vengeance, is no different. Overflowing with awesome stage combat and imaginative writing, this show packs a huge theatrical punch in just under 90 minutes.
The story takes place in postapocalyptic "Lost Vegas," which set designer Nick Francone images as a cross between the Vegas Strip and a mining community in the Old West. Malcolm Price (Sheldon Best) is the sheriff (of sorts) in these parts, which were recently overrun by the Long Tooth Gang, a pack of vampirelike monsters. Malcolm mourns the loss of his fiancé, Nathaniel (Jon Hoche), to the Long Tooths and seeks revenge on their leader, Queen Mad (Nicky Schmidlein). He enlists the help of bounty hunters Jess December (Jamie Dunn) and Lucky (Tom Myers). The hulking Lucky seems to have a magical power over the creatures that, if harnessed, could drive the Long Tooths straight out of town.
While Nguyen's story seems like pretty standard Hollywood action-adventure fare (candy to rot your brain), it stealthily raises important issues of trust, devotion, and the ultimate impermanence of everything. Just as no one lives forever (vampires excluded), so too does every relationship come to an end. That's a lesson you won't hear a Twilight movie.
Director Robert Ross Parker skillfully walks the line between silly and serious. The flashback scenes between Malcolm and Nathaniel are genuinely touching. A certain animated levity persists through the show, however, with key moments framed (by an actual picture frame) as if they were panels in a comic book. Video designer Matthew Tennie breaks up the action with a hilarious and absurd Claymation short. Everyone looks great in Kristina Makowski's end-of-days couture costumes, which incorporate elements of John Wayne realness with leather fetish gear.
The five-person cast delivers this story with a zany commitment. Everyone plays multiple roles. They perform in slow-motion, fast-motion, and reverse, all in an attempt to realize Parker and Nguyen's cinematic vision. They compensate for occasionally stilted line-readings with incredibly physical performances, hurtling across the stage and slamming into the floor. Schmidlein, in particular, wows us with her agility and psychotic facial expressions as she's slashing her way through the opposition. Nguyen (who is also the fight director) choreographs violence like a ballet master looking to push his dancers to the limits. Like in a work by Tchaikovsky, the best pas de deux are reserved for the final act.
Your jaw may well hit the floor when watching the final series of fights or when David Valentine's supersize Sasquatch puppet marches out onstage. As far as stage spectacle is concerned, Six Rounds of Vengeance is the best value in town.