Review: Soul Samurai (Infusion Theatre Company)

     
     

Not quite enough soul in ‘Soul Samurai’

     
     

Glenn Stanton, Megan Tabaque, Paul Tadalan, Christine Lin, Zach Livingston, Anji White.

  
Infusion Theatre Company presents
   
Soul Samurai
  
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Mitch Golob
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $15-$25   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

Bloodthirsty shoguns run a post-apocalyptic New York City. A female warrior seeks revenge for her murdered girlfriend, armed with only a katana and a wise-cracking sidekick.

It’s a pretty sweet premise for a play. Especially when a live DJ is scoring the activities and comic book-style video projections provide visual gimmickry. Infusion Theatre Company’s production of Qui Nguyen’s Soul Samurai promises to attract nerds and action-addicts alike. If only the product lived up to the hype.

Nguyen’s play falls into the same pit many of the action movies he’s sending up fall into. Instead of a cohesive plot, the story just seems to be an excuse for the next battle. Even with director Mitch Golob at the helm and Geoff Coates crafting the complex sword brawls, the production can’t overcome the play’s flaws. The pacing of the entire show is jilted and the fights seem to be running at about 75%, not full Christine Lin, Amy Dellagiarino in Infusion Theatre's 'Soul Samurai' by Qui Nguyen. Evan Lee, Christine Lin in a scene from Infusion Theatre's Soul Samurai by Qui Ngyuen. Photo by Anthony LaPennaspeed. It’s fun, but it is not fun enough.

Nguyen writes in a style that is half neo-Kung Fu flick and half Blaxploitation. He sets his story several years after New York City has fallen to ultra-violent gangs and a few genuine psychopaths. We follow Dewdrop (Christine Lin) as she seeks to avenge the death of her lover, Sally December (Amy Dellagiarino), who was attacked by a mob of bad guys right in front of Dewdrop’s eyes. The narrative is chopped up so we also see how Dewdrop went from a demure, Asian college student to an urban Amazon. She battles through to Brooklyn, along with her loudmouthed pal Cert (Steve Thomas). But as she slashes deeper into the city, the thugs get more sinister. And maybe a soul-deprived Sally December is among them. Like any good hero, Dewdrop presses on to the bloody end.

I have to give Infusion props for bringing a tale on-stage that you usually don’t see—something action-based instead of focusing on a bunch of characters jabbering the whole time. Although the play is a unique beast for theatre, it doesn’t feel entirely original. While “Kill Bill” was Tarantino’s homage to Hong Kong cinema, it was also an entirely new tale. Soul Samurai seems like an homage to “Kill Bill”. It doesn’t help that the soundtrack is referenced at least twice.

While his production generally exudes the cool necessary for something like this, Golob’s show is flawed. On paper, the running time was an hour and 45 minutes; in reality, the show clocked a half hour over that. A lot of that was due to slow transitions Master Leroy (Evan Lee), Dewdrop (Christine Lin)and dragging scenes, including a training montage that overstays it’s welcome. And on opening night, at least, the on-stage action, music, and video weren’t entirely synced up.

The cast captures Nguyen’s tough, dog-eat-dog style well. Lin has a bit of tough time commanding the space, but she finds it eventually. She’s got the spunk, but she can’t always externalize it. Thomas is the highlight of the show, always flying at a breakneck pace and delivering his profanity-laced witticisms with flair. Other favorites include Glenn Stanton as a pimp-coat donning shogun and Evan Lee as the stereotypical sensei (“Sally” comes out as “Sarry”).

Considering how cool the show could be, the end product is just sort of disappointing. There’s a lot of flash, and Jesse Livingston’s musical styling adds some fun. But, for me anyway, it wasn’t enough to cover up the holes in Nguyen’s pedestrian script. How often, though, is there a chance to see live samurai battles in this city? The slice-and-dice novelty is indeed worth checking out.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Evan Lee, Christine Lin in a scene from Infusion Theatre's Soul Samurai by Qui Ngyuen. Photo by Anthony LaPenna

Soul Samurai runs April 28 – June 5 at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave.
The performance schedule is Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3
p.m. Tickets are $25 during the run with student, senior and industry
discounts available. Industry tickets, $15, are available at all Thursday
performances. Tickets may be purchased by calling 773-975-8150 or at
infusiontheatre.com.   

Photos by Anthony LaPenna

  

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REVIEW: Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies (Second City)

Spoiler Alert: It’s Good.

 

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Second City presents
  
Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies
   
directed by Matt Hovde
at
Second City, 1616 N. Wells (map)
through October 31st  |  tickets: $22-$27   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

When I see a Second City revue, I watch it through two different lenses.

The first is the comedian. I’m a former Second City student, and I’ve done my share of stand-up, sketch and improv comedy around the city. So I can see the gears in motion as the actors are on stage. I know what reads as hokey, and I can spot a pot shot. But I can also identify what improv guru Del Close termed “truth in comedy,” that is the genuineness behind the joke.

SPOILER_ALERT_PR_003_Knuth The other filter is the audience member. There’s nothing less funny than deconstructing a joke, so I have to allow myself to sit back, pull the stick from out of my butt and enjoy the show. Besides, Second City gets a wide spectrum of attendees, from talent scouts looking for the next star to Schaumburgers.

Too hokey and you’ll trip my comedian sensor. Too self-aware and you’ll trip my audience sensor. Fortunately, Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies strikes a near perfect harmony.

At the show’s opening, a red button sits on stage. A push from a brave audience member gets things going. We witness a human machine and are told through voice over that at the end of the show everybody dies. What ensues is a well-staged and masterfully executed montage of brief scenes depicting actions and consequences that result in various people’s deaths.

We then go into sketch mode. It’s a father/son scene. The son (the expressive Tim Robinson) is getting cold feet at his wedding. His dad (Tim Mason) attempts to convince him of the wonders of marriage, specifically the benefit of being able to use your wife’s brain to remember things you can’t. The sketch relies a little too much on stereotypical representations of Neanderthal men, but it has its moments.

Next there’s an ensemble song about people who skim the news, illustrating that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Later, there’s a cute bit about a matching sweatpants-wearing couple (Robinson and Shelly Gossman) who are an embarrassment to their Michael Jackson-loving daughter (Emily Wilson).

The best sketch of the bunch is a bit where one employee (Robinson) hems and haws when breaking the bad news that his co-worker (Gossman) is being laid off. The sketch works because it’s simple—just two talking heads—that are sharing a real genuine connection. Also, Robinson’s antics and inflections are so hilarious that he even cracks himself up.

 

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Second City sketch revues by their nature must be fast-paced. The moment the energy drops in the room, you risk losing your audience. Director Matt Hovde manages to keep the show flowing even in scenes that stew a bit more, such as the heavier sketch about a woman (Grossman) who comes to terms with being an asshole after berating a man (Mason) who just lost his son.

The ensemble works well together, and there certainly are some standouts. It’s no surprise that Gossman was recently tapped to head East and write for “Saturday Night Live”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Robinson is on deck.

The one major criticism I have for the show is its antiquated reliance on racial jokes. Nearly every sketch with Edgar Blackmon (who was filling in for cast regular Sam Richardson) relied in part on the fact that he is black. True, nobody is colorblind when it comes to race. It’s an important and unavoidable element of our society. But when you beat it into the ground with every sketch with a black actor, you start feeling a bit uneasy—especially when the audience is almost entirely white.

Overall, whether you come from the entertainment industry or from Indiana, you’ll walk away laughing from Spoiler Alert.

    
    
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

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