Friday, May 25, 2012

Culture vs. Identity vs. Cowboy vs. Samurai

A mixing of masks with Boulevard's latest show

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Love I can relate to. Ancestral culture? Uh, no . . . there's really no ethnic culture her for me. I come from an ambiguously European mishmash. My last name means, "place of the marsh," in a language nobody speaks anymore. None of my identity is formed from cultural heritage. It's all just weird little idiosyncrasies drawn against the flat, mass-culture I grew-up with. And that's why nationalism always seemed a little strange to me. And that's why there's a good part of Cowboy Versus Samurai feels kind of artificial to me. 

 

The play by Michael Golamco explores romance and cultural identity between a caucasian and a few asian-americans in small-town Wyoming. The romance I get. The romance I can get into. And David Lee and Veronica Sotelo are really great as pseudo-romantic leads, but anything beyond that feels kind of weak to me. Which, in a way is kind of the point. And in a way that makes Golamco's romantic comedy a bit more interesting than an initial impression probably gives it credit for. 

 

Golamco is exploring the nature of cultural identity in the homogenization of contemporary mass-culture. Asian Veronica is attracted to Del because Del is caucasian, but also because he writes her love letters. Well . . . he signs love letters that are written by Asian-American Travis. Rick Fresca plays Del performing bits of those letters throughout the show. And because some of those letters are based on Del's life and some of those letters are based on Travis' life, we get a blending of cultural identities that's kind of interesting to think about post-hoc. But the deeper ends of it . . . the more obvious ends of what are being said still feel artificial. This is particularly tedious with the character of Chester. He's a militant activist desperately searching for his identity in various Asian cultures. Being adopted, he was never given the benefit of knowing which Asian culture he comes from. As a premise, this has potential, but Golamco doesn't do much with it . . . the characters is kind of a Wile E. Coyote of cultural identity . . . bouncing around the stories in weird ways and occasionally getting run over by chance and circumstance. It sounds a lot more clever than it actually is and Clarence Aumend does his best with it, but it's really difficult to make a role like this feel like anything more than a device for pounding home the cultural identity theme of the script. But the romance . . . that I can get into. And David Lee and Veronica Sotelo do a really good job there. Really this is about them. This is about the romance and its well worth seeing. 

 

Boulevard Theatre's production of Cowboy Versus Samuraid runs through June 24th. For ticket reservations, call 414-744-5757. A concise review of the production runs in the next issue of the Shepherd-Express. 

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