“Six Rounds of Vengeance,” at the New Ohio Theatre (Closed Saturday May 16, 2015)

May 16, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Presented by Vampire Cowboys
Written by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Robert Ross Parker
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

If you buy into the old adage ‘good writers steal,’ then Qui Nguyen is the best playwright in town. His post-apocalyptic epic ‘Six Rounds of Vengeance’ presented by the ever-infamous Vampire Cowboys is a flashy potpourri of Tarantino-esque homage. One could practically make a bingo game from the sheer volume of references to Mad Max, Blade, Fallout: New Vegas, Hack/Slash, I Am Legend, Dark Tower, and and the rest. (If you don’t know any of these franchises, steer clear. This isn’t your bag.)

Bounty Hunters Jess and Lucky come across samurai/cowboy Malcolm as he quests through the desert wasteland of ‘Lost Vegas.’  Malcolm is on the hunt for Queen Mad; the longtooth (cowboy for ‘vampire’) who killed his husband Nathaniel. When the group discovers Nathaniel is not dead, but rather a vampire himself, the play becomes a revenge-tragedy of the most bombastic proportions.

Director Robert Ross Parker’s creative edge is nowhere close to dulling. The imaginative visual flow which made ‘Fight Girl Battle World’ and ‘She Kills Monsters’ so appealing is present and evolved in ‘Vengeance.’ Parker approaches a dune-buggy chase, an animatronic werewolf, and a bed of roses marriage proposal with his signature gritty, gutsy finesse. An example of Parker’s bare-bones savvy comes in his employment simple wooden frames, used to highlight significant moments in the show. Not only do the frames allow for slow-motion comedy, they pay delightful homage to the legion of graphic novels upon which the show is based.

‘Cowboys’ veteran Nicky Schmidlein delivers the most captivating performance as Queen Mad, a serial-killer-turned-vampire who lords of Lost Vegas with maniacal gravitas. John Hoche gives the most endearing portrayal as Nathaniel, whose genuine love for Malcolm leads him down the dark path of vampirism. (In a moment reminiscent of the best scene in ‘30 Days of Night’)

The biggest problem in ‘Vengeance’ is the fact that the cast is so damn small. While I realize equity minimums are a B-and-a-half, the incessant doubling and tripling makes a showstopping fight sequence impossible. As with many action-oriented plays, Nguyen’s script is too distrustful of his director. Action is written into the dialogue in such a way that a desert chase and an escape from handties become gaudy exposition rather than funny thrill. It would have been nice to replace these shackling speeches with monologues revealing the inner lives of eclectic cast. Jess has an unspoken love of Lucky that could use some illuminating, and Malcolm’s conflicted feelings about the newly-undead Nathaniel are only lightly broached.

But there are too many glorious moments for this play to fizzle. A claymation short about a sad little tumbleweed and a hilarious backstabbing sequence are worth the price of admission. (not to mention Nicky Schmidlein’s deliciously psychotic evil queen)

A witches’ cauldron of subculture, ‘Six Rounds of Vengeance’ delivers exactly what it promises with some surprising, laugh-worthy asides. The Vampire Cowboys live up to their title as the kingpins of geek theatre, and Nguyen and Parker prove an enduring grindhouse marriage.