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Soul Samarai
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2011-05-11

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Playwright: Qui Nguyen. At: InFusion Theatre Company at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Phone: 773-975-8150; $25. Runs through: June 5

We enter the black-box auditorium to find ourselves surrounded by tagger-art, flow-morphic videos and scratchy hip-hop music, the last courtesy of stageside DJ "Dishwasha." The first words our questing heroine utters are, "Moshi-moshi, motherfuckers." And with the addition of that final epithet, anticipation of Charlie-Chan accents, rec room karate or other chop-socky giggles ceases, to be replaced by the existential gloom of your favorite graphic novel.

For starters, playwright Qui Nguyen's locale is not some idyllic pastoral kingdom, but a post-apocalyptic New York City now controlled by feudal lords. Oh, hidden conclaves exist within the boundaries—zenmaster Leroy's dojo on the Lower East Side, a Christian-soldier monastery in the Brownsville district—but the Longtooth thugs who, five years earlier, kidnapped the patrician Sally December were the servants of the evil masked Boss 2K, shogun of Brooklyn (or "brook-NAM" as one character dubs it). Racked with guilt, bookish Dewdrop vowed to avenge her lost lesbian lover. Accompanied by sidekick, Cert (as, he boasts, in "Death CERT-ificate"), our intrepid pilgrim ventures into the stygian realms where even those pure in heart risk falling prey to primitive bloodlust.

Indeed, what does it mean that Nguyen's cruelest archvillains ("Hey, let's go make some war," carols Boss 2K) were privileged idealists or white-collar drones before succumbing to the intoxication of power? Do the deaths of Dewdrop's comrades signify the failure of education, religion and filial loyalty to provide her the answers she seeks? Is her odyssey an allegory of ambivalence over the influence exerted upon her by the arrogantly dogmatic Sally? And do the changes in the latter comprise a case study of altruism gone sour?

An abundance of psychological complexity, then, lies beneath the seemingly endless array of adrenaline-pumping martial-arts spectacle—duels by flashlight, the "obligatory training montage" and the most original sword-cane stunt in Chicago stage combat history—choreographed by Geoff Coates for an athletic cast led by Christine Lin as the valiant Dewdrop. The real stars of the show, however, are the technical team of David Ferguson, Liviu Pasare, Charles Cooper, Miles Polaski and Joy Dennis, who together create a dramatic universe steeped in metaphor and mystery, where violence is not a mere enhancement but instead seamlessly integrated into their story's very foundations. Arigato gozaimasu, muh-fuhs!


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