Don’t let the title fool you. Cowboy versus Samuraiis not the kind of sophomoric comedy one might expect from this low-brow title. Instead, Michael Golomco’s comedy is wise, self-assured and thought-provoking. It’s also funny as hell.
Cowboy raises questions about cultural identity, self-hatred, bigotry and the range of human relationships – all of it set in a small, redneck town in Wyoming. There are only two Asians in this tumbleweed-strewn corner of America. As the play begins, the Asian men are holding a meeting of their two-member cultural awareness group.
These guys are yin and yang. One, the associate manager of a Mexican restaurant, grew up here. Chester is funny, crude and militant. Through some glitch in administrative paperwork, Chester, an orphan, has a background that is somewhat of a mystery. During the performance, he claims at times to be Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc. The other man, Travis, is a handsome, intelligent English teacher, who is Korean. He is nursing his wounds in Wyoming from a failed relationship he suffered while in Los Angeles. Travis struggles to keep his friend in line and maintain peace among the locals. Why? In one of the play’s funniest one-liners, he responds, “because half the town can’t tell the two of us apart!”
One of their local friends is Del, a physical education teacher. Del is tall and lanky, “a long drink of water,” as they might say, who wears pearl-buttoned flannel shirts, jeans and a cowboy hat. He is clueless about most things, including women. (“Education isn’t that important for phys ed teachers,” he pronounces.) So when a Korean hottie arrives in town, Del has no idea how to attract her attention. Veronica tells Travis that she is part of a federally funded program that sends teachers to desperately needed areas. “We’re desperate,” Travis agrees. “Some of our seniors still eat paste.”
The implausible plot is a mere set-up for an intentional twist on the tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. When Del finds out that Veronica is attracted only to white men, he asks for Travis’ help to overcome his shyness. Although Travis is secretly in love with Veronica, he feels that he doesn’t have a chance with her. So he agrees to write letters on Del’s behalf.
The playwright, Los Angeles-based Michael Golamco, has had his work produced at New York’s Second Stage Theater, Chicago’s Victory Garden, and the Actors Theater of Louisville. Boulevard artistic director Mark Bucher spent five years securing rights and finding cast members before presenting the Midwest premiere of Cowboy versus Samurai.
Asian actors are as rare in Milwaukee as Asians in Wyoming. Still, some things are worth waiting for. Cowboy tackles sensitive subjects with creativity and a big dose of humor.
On opening night, the cast gave a good performance, but still needed to gel. As Travis, David Lee brings out the character’s sensitivity and intelligence. Clarence Aumend plays Chester like some Asian version of Buddy Hackett. It takes a while before the audience gets the fact that Aumend’s over-the-top delivery actually is normal for his character. Chester becomes the type of misguided kook that one remembers long after the play is over.
Actor Veronica Sotelo, who plays the character Veronica, is spot-on as the no-nonsense, New York City teacher. However, Sotelo’s character is supposed to display warmth that “charms the town,” and one wishes she would show more of this attribute onstage. As Del, Rick Fresca definitely looks and acts the part. Directors Jaime Jastrab and Mark Bucher spin gold out of cloth with this low-budget production that shines.