My Asian Weekend: "Cowboy Versus Samurai," "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam," and "Steel Magnolias"--Wait a Minute, What?!, "Steel Magnolias"?!

West Liang and Feodor Chin. Photo by Michael C. Palma.
I met Michael Golamco five years ago at the Asian American Theater Conference when we were on panel that had a faux-provocative title, "What Happened to Our Funny Bone?," a kind of thrown gauntlet that challenged us to prove that we were hilarious Asian Americans. I don't remember much more than that, but, if that panel were held today, I would turn to Michael and say, "I just saw your play, Cowboy Versus Samurai, and your funny bone is definitely intact"—before punching him in the face because I can't stand to be reminded that I have not cornered the market on Asian-American comedies.

Produced by Artists at Play and running until October 20, 2013, Cowboy Versus Samurai is a modern-day re-imagining of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (or Steve Martin's Roxanne, depending on whom you ask). In Golamco's charming and unexpectedly moving comedy set in Wyoming, Korean-American high school teacher Travis writes love letters on behalf of Caucasian gym teacher/country bumpkin Del who's trying to woo new-to-town Korean-American Veronica, who happens to only date white guys. Cyrano's unsightly nose (and his obstacle to romance) is replaced here by that pesky little thing called race.

Julia Cho and Daniel Vincent Gordh. Photo by Michael C. Palma.
But what could easily veer into the kind of polemic that you might find in an Asian-American Studies 101 final exam essay actually doesn't because Golamco fleshes out his characters enough so that they feel like real individuals rather than APA archetypes and looks at things through the lens of humor rather than academic inquiry.

All this is bolstered by a deft cast (Feodor Chin, Julia Cho, Daniel Vincent Gordh, and West Liang) and thoughtful direction by Peter J. Kuo, whose sound design elements (credited to Felix Lau) add layers to the text and make it uniquely theatrical.

This production of Cowboy Versus Samurai receives Bamboo Nation's first-ever Seal of Approval!

Buy tickets to Cowboy Versus Samurai here. (There may be super-secret discount tickets available here.)

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But wait! That's not the only play I saw this past weekend!

Trieu Tran
Trieu Tran's solo show, Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam, is a harrowing Vietnamese refugee story playing at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City until October 6, 2013. The piece gets increasingly engrossing as it unfolds, piling on unbelievable (but true) tragedy after tragedy and ending in, we presume, triumph, by the very fact that Tran is standing on that stage—alive, resilient, transformed. More information about the show is here.

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Karen Huie, Ruth Coughlin, Hiwa Bourne, Dian Kobayashi, Lovelle Liquigan, Patti Yasutake
Over in downtown Los Angeles until October 6, 2013, East West Players is giving Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias a thankfully refreshing Asian-American twist—refreshing because it pumps some life into a script that wears its fortune-cookie dialogue on its sleeve ("I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special," anyone? Anyone?) and emotionally manipulates you whether you like it or not. Yup, I cried. How could you not cry?! The cast acts up a storm, Southern accents and all, with a memorable Karen Huie elevating the text by putting on a thick Chinese accent—this is the kind of camp that the play has always desperately needed. (While I believe drag versions of Steel MagnoliasSteel Dragnolias, anyone? Anyone?—have existed, they've also been squashed.) More information about the show is here.

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