VAMPIRE COWBOYS THEATRE COMPANY
in association with
Incubator Arts Project
THE INEXPLICABLE REDEMPTION OF AGENT G
Written by QUI NGUYEN
Directed by ROBERT ROSS PARKER
St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, 131 E. 10th Street (at 2nd Avenue), Manhattan
March 24 through April 16, 2011
Scenic & Lighting Design NICK FRANCONE
Costume Design JESSICA WEGENER SHAY
Original Music & Sound Design SHANE RETTIG
Puppet Design DAVID VALENTINE
Fight Direction ADAM SCOTT MAZER, QUI NGUYEN
Video Design MATTHEW TENNIE
Film & Animation Direction ROBERT ROSS PARKER
Production Stage Manager DANIELLE BUCCINO
Choreographer JAMIE DUNN
Assistant Stage Manager AMY VONVETT
Assistant Director DAN ROGERS
Producers ABBY MARCUS, DANIEL RECH
Press Representative JIM BALDASSARE
William Jackson Harper – The Playwright
Jon Hoche – Tien, Dihn, Pimp, Gookie Monster, David
Bonnie Sherman – Molly, Sexy White Girl, Abby
Paco Tolson – Hung
Amy Kim Waschke – Huy, San
Fans of the Vampire Cowboys will be treated to an adept merging of the familiar and the new should they attend this latest endeavor, THE INEXPLICABLE REDEMPTION OF AGENT G. As the program notes inform the audience ("A New Chapter Begins"), the Cowboys are deviating from the tried and true and "…taking our irreverent esthetic to uncharted territories for us." Good news for the audience, the things left behind do not include the group’s talent and collaborative acumen. What does seem apparent is that the group is seeking a sort of theatrical maturity, yet at the same time have not abandoned the penchant to challenge the status quo.
The plot of REDEMPTION seemingly revolves around Agent G, a Vietnamese expatriate returning to his homeland with his fiancée to confront painful memories of a past that includes suffering, loss, murder and cannibalism. In reality, the live action onstage serves to be more or less a window into the mind of writer Qui Nguyen, and his battling sensibilities about art, culture and heritage.
The limited stage area is no hindrance to Robert Ross Parker’s taut direction. The set design by Nick Francone consists primary of large block letters spelling out Vietnam in a v shape that points toward the back of the stage. In this way, and in terms of the action and direction of the script, much about the production embraces to the comic book sensibilities that both Parker and Nguyen have built their success on.
Unabashedly self-aware, this REDEMPTION employs devices untried in other Vampire Cowboys plays. The first hint of departure from the formula comes early in the live action, and just after a signature video preview. Following an opening action sequence reminiscent of any number of Vietnam-centric films (including the requisite Rolling Stones musical accompaniment), the captured character, The Playwright, is introduced. It is quickly and repeatedly evident that playwright Qui Nguyen is a focal point of action, in the guise of on-stage "doppelganger" William Jackson Harper as The Playwright. Pretentious in less skilled hands, this is only the tip of the sword for the Vampire Cowboys’ leap into new perspectives, and introspection.
Amid the humor, Nguyen hints at some darker insights, as actors continually step out of character to question The Playwright’s intentions for THE INEXPLICABLE REDEMPTION OF AGENT G. He is slammed for not making this play more like a Vampire Cowboys play, he is taunted by memories of college professors urging him to make his work more Vietnamese, and is even subjected to his actors reading mediocre reviews of Nguyen’s early work. The actors breaking character in this play-within-a-play sort of way works, to a point, but the devise is used once or twice too often, and did not prepare me for the sobering dénouement.
Dark clouds aside, what worked best in THE INEXPLICABLE REDEMPTION OF AGENT G is the finely honed ability to at once parody and embrace popular culture while challenging political correctness. From the opening battle sequence, to a bawdy revisiting of a Katy Perry tune, to the Jim Henson-inspired Gooky Monster, to a fierce contest of words with an actor portraying the much lauded stage and screenwriter David Henry Hwang, it is clear that Qui Nguyen has more than a few things he wants to say. In most situations, he is able to find the funny, which makes what could be bleak reality go down that much easier.
- Kessa De Santis -