Qui Nguyen’s latest installment with Vampire Cowboys pits love against Long Tooths.
Photos by Theresa Squire
With a name like Vampire Cowboys, you know you're in for something good. An OBIE Award-winning “geek theater” company that creates new plays in a dark comedy, comic book aesthetic, Vampire Cowboys was founded in 2000 by playwright Qui Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker. Back after a hiatus of over three years, the duo has now brought Six Rounds of Vengeance to the New Ohio Theatre, a tale where the only thing stronger than a Long Tooth is love.
In the post-apocalyptic world of "Lost Vegas," Jess and Lucky survive as a team of bounty hunters, taking down trappers and other unsavory humans. But when a swaggering cowboy named Malcolm Price approaches them for help on a different sort of mission, the trio embark on a quest that should be impossible--to take down the Long Tooth Queen Mad. And as they get closer to finding the murderous queen, the secrets start coming out, and we discover these cowboys are far more than they appear.
It takes some time to get used to the extreme campiness of Six Rounds of Vengeance, but once you're committed this play is a blast. Featuring a fist or sword fight (or both) in every scene, the show is nonstop action, with clever stage combat choreography that runs the gamut from knife throwing to capoeira. And though the inclusion of literal comic book frames during battle sequences is at times awkward, that is all forgiven in its fantastically designed final boss that you will have to see to believe.
Featuring a glitzy but disintegrating city landscape and constant but not intrusive use of projections, the Lost Vegas of the Vampire Cowboys is both a dystopia and an idealized world of racial diversity, badass women and LGBT equality. Its villains are an interesting mix of the evil for the sake of being evil, like Queen Mad and the trappers, and empathetic opponents like Malcolm's Long Tooth former husband Nathaniel. Romantic plots, both between Malcolm and Nathaniel and between Jess and Lucky, in fact prove central to the story, a love story at heart despite (or perhaps because of) its constant battles.
Six Rounds of Vengeance is also an act of collective storytelling, in which only five actors convincingly play a much larger cast of characters, black-clad performers step in mid-scene to assist with stunts during fight scenes and the "rounds" of the play are periodically broken up by one character stepping forward to narrate a vignette of their backstory. This pacing slowly introduces us to the larger world of Lost Vegas, its cops and its elite as well as its refugees, and proves that love and friendship can blossom in the most unlikely places.
Sheldon Best, Jamie Dunn, Jon Hoche, Tom Myers and Nicky Schmidlein form a solid ensemble, jumping easily between the roles of vampire and cowboy, lover and betrayer. We largely experience the play from the point of view of bounty hunter Jess (Dunn) and lovesick gay cowboy Malcolm (Best), but even the most degenerate Long Tooth gets the chance to tell their story.
Six Rounds of Vengeance puts a slightly different spin on vampire mythology while still building on common knowledge, creating a special blend all its own. In this world of Lost Vegas and Long Tooths, the stars shine brightest just as all hope seems to be lost. At least when there's someone Lucky hanging around.
Six Rounds of Vengeance plays at the New Ohio Theatre through May 16.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.