Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
But the real excitement of this meeting is that the Asian population of Breakneck, Wyoming, is about to increase from two to three, with the new arrival being a woman named Veronica Lee. President Chester prays fervently to the Bruce Lee action figure hanging around his neck, "Oh Bruce ... please make sure that Veronica Lee is hot, hot and buttered, Shie-Shie, O Great One." What neither he nor his fellow BAAA-er Travis yet knows is that Veronica, while definitely "hot," prefers Caucasians and avoids dating Asians at all costs. What they cannot begin to imagine is this sophisticated ex-New Yorker is going immediately to fall heads over heels for Del, a local boy now P.E. teacher who is as close to being a cowboy in rugged looks and tongue-tied manners as could be.
And thus is the set-up for a delightfully entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, and altogether sweet Cowboy versus Samurai by Michael Golamco, now receiving a staging at Pear Theatre. The four twenty-somethings are all in search of their true identities, and their journeys' bumpy routes are full of racial, personal and relationship uncertainties and biases to be confronted with no bypasses ultimately allowed. For us as an audience and fellow travelers, we are able to enjoy at their expense the trials and tribulations they so dramatically encounter while rooting from our darkened seats for happy endings in what we hope in the finale is in fact a romantic comedyand not a tragedy.
Lorenz Angelo Gonzales is Travis, an English teacher who escaped a thwarted relationship to come two years earlier to this small town in the middle of Big Sky Country. He is mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and carries an unspoken sadness in those deep-set eyes. Gonzales' Travis is the yin to Chester's yang. Travis is happy enough (at least on the surface) for the quiet life on the plains and is exasperated with Chester's constant diatribes about being persecuted as "a yellow island in a sea of white." The two have a tenuous friendship cemented more on the circumstance of being the only two Asians than on any common beliefs or interests.
Chuck Lacson is a constant showstopper in the role of loud-mouthed, overly dramatic Chester. Speaking in the funniest of Texas/Tennessee-sounding slow drawls, he spouts off about "Yellow people, yellow pride." Chester is a big man who is want to dress in yellow KKK-like robes or ninja-worthy outfits, who speaks only when hands are flying and expressions are accented wild-eyed and wrinkle-browed, and who fervently believes "American rice contains penis-shrinking chemicals." While avidly pro-Asian in his every breathing moment, he has no idea as an adopted son what nationality he actually is (his parents forgot to ask), and he thus hilariously changes countries of origin in order to suit his present mood and cause of the day.
The population explosion among Breakneck's Asians is occurring because Veronica is "part of a program that puts teachers where they are desperately needed" and has chosen this out-of-the-way spot to "try it out," having always wanted to live in "a place that has a band that sounds like Country Bear Jamboree." Heather Mae Steffen's Veronica is cool and reserved, polished and refined, and prone to decorating her new abode with jars of preserved animal parts (being a biology teacher). She and Travis quickly form a close friendship, but he even more quickly realizes that BFFs is as far as they will go, given her declared propensity for Caucasian dudes only. The fact that the way they each look at each other with locked eyes or the way each all of a sudden smiles in a shy way as the other makes some cute remark does not negate for either that Travis can never be Veronica's chosen new boyfriend.
That role is to go to Del, the good ol', very local boy who still lives with his dad and brother and who is drop-dead, hunky handsomein a cowboy sort of way. When on their first meeting he and Veronica arouse in each other unspoken attraction, he convinces his friend and fellow teacher Travis to write love notes to Veronicanotes detailing stories that are actually ones generated from Travis's life and dreams and not from Del's. Drew Reitz is Del, an overgrown boy-now-man who is seeking love from a woman different in every respect from him. He is also clearly and embarrassedly unsure of himself unless he has the stories of Travis that he can claim as his own.
Michael Golamco's script is a series of dialogues, most often involving any two of the characters. While mildly entertaining throughout and with plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud (especially whenever Chester is on the stage), some of the dialogues mire down in their back-and-forthespecially those between Travis and Veronica. Director Jeffrey Lo seems to be using pauses between spoken lines to such an extent that, at times, it becomes too easy to lose interest in the current conversation. The effect is that the two-hour play begins to feel especially in the first actas if it will go a total of three or more. Fortunately, the pace does pick up as the play progresses in the second half, and the final effect is one of satisfied enjoyment.
Ting Na Wang has created a set sparse like the the plains of Wyoming but banked with a sky that goes on forever, thanks to a beautifully painted mural that stretches all across the stage's back wall. The lighting of Tanya Finkelstein fantastically illuminates the various times of day on the painted prairie and creates shadows reminding one of the prairie's fences of wood and barbed wire. Jeffrey Lo's sound design is a soundtrack of songs that might be playing at any given moment in the local Heck's Tavern. And kudos especially go to Diane Tasca for costumes that match and expand each individual's personaespecially that of the Asian activist on steroids, Chester.
In the end, Cowboy versus Samurai is an unlikely love story, much like Edmond Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac that Michael Golamco has used as his inspiration. Pear Theatre's slow-paced, often low-key staging (with wild Chester-inspired interludes) does nice justice to the well-written script where questions of self-identity involving race, preferences and capabilities stir feelings of love and define, in new ways, true friendship.
Cowboy versus Samurai, through April 8, 2018, at Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida, Mountain View CA. Tickets are available at www.thepear.org or by calling 650-254-1148.