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Vampire Cowboy Trilogy

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

True, it may not even be spring yet, but who says March is no time for camp? There's plenty on display at the Common Basis Theatre, where the Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company is presenting Vampire Cowboy Trilogy, a collection of three over-the-top, kitsch-filled plays putting modern spins on established storytelling styles.

The first, "Jake Misco: Outer Borough Paranormal Investigator," mixes ghost stories and hardboiled detective films, complete with a title character whose "private" asides are spoken aloud and who mistakenly believes his secretary is both psychic and French; the second, "Captain Justice & Liberty Lady versus The Hooded Menace," finds two Cold War American superheroes battling the evils of Communism; and the third, "Tina: Teenage Warrior Princess," is a cross between Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Much of Vampire Cowboy Trilogy seems to exist solely for the purpose of setting up its nine fight sequences. At least, as choreographed by Qui Nguyen (who created the piece with director Robert Ross Parker) and members of the company, they prove worth waiting for. Incorporating frying pans, Norwegian ninjas, a pack of rabid zombie cheerleaders, and occasionally even the vampire cowboys of the play's title, the fights alone are almost enough to sell the piece; heavily reliant on props and the impressive acrobatic proclivities of the cast, they are intricately choreographed and a tremendous amount of silly fun.

The cast is perfectly in tune with the material, and there are some fine comic talents here. Foremost is Dan Deming, as both Jake Misco and the Communism-advocating Hooded Menace; his booming voice, imposing physical stature, and quirky sense of humor make him equally adept as a hero or villain. Melissa Paladino, as Liberty Lady, Tina, and the Flight Attendant assisting in the pre-theatre announcements, is a statuesque tribute to underhanded comedy, and her voice and physicality are always tinged with the winking irony that is the show's foundation. Andrea Marie Smith gets a few choice moments as Tina's arch-nemesis in the final play, but she, Temar Underwood, Margie Freeswick, and Megan Ketch are otherwise underutilized, and give slightly less satisfying performances in their numerous roles.

Nick Francone's scenic design uses a combination of curtains, drops, and Venetian blinds to excellent effect, making fine use of the very small theater, and Christopher M. Domanski's costumes burst with color and grin-evoking cleverness. Deming also deserves some credit as the composer (and performer) of the show's theme song, which sets the overridingly silly tone for the evening with its spot-on parody of old west cowboy ballads.

It, like so much else in the play, is entertaining. But Parker and his crew pick so many different comedic targets, the proceedings often seem uneven and almost desperate. With the exception of the second play, which takes some surprising turns into contemporary relevance, there's little depth as either comedy or theatre here; the first play is extremely funny, the second is "important," and the third tells a great story, but there are precious few moments when the three qualities are all incorporated at the same time.

Ultimately, it's that inconsistency that makes the play unsatisfying. Sophomoric comedy, taken to its fullest extremes, can produce comic gold, but Parker and Nguyen never get quite that far. Vampire Cowboy Trilogy has a few moments of brilliance (and the fight scenes are great), but, in the end, they're not quite enough to prevent the play - like the vampire cowboys' victims - from feeling a bit bloodless.

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Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company
Vampire Cowboy Trilogy
Through March 27
Common Basis Theatre, 750 Eighth Avenue, 5th Floor
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: 212-696-7806