While the BAAA is ineffective at best, Chester is excited by the prospect of a third member: Korean-American biology teacher Veronica Lee (Heather Mae Steffen) is moving to town from New York. While she and Travis hit it off, Veronica makes it clear that she intends to stay single ... and even if she didn't, she has certain preferences that preclude Travis from consideration. So when Travis's friend Del (Drew Reitz), the part-time (white) P.E. teacher asks for help in wooing Veronica, Travis agrees.
Through a series of romantic letters signed by Del, Travis expresses his love for Veronica, while Veronica falls for Del. And when Veronica discovers that Del doesn't have an Asian fetish and loves her for her, she's all in. Or is she?
The play attempts to bring four different viewpoints on racism into dialogue. When it lands, the humor diffuses a potentially charged conversation and makes it palatable, and, while the characters feel more like stock representations of different viewpoints, the actors do their best to infuse them with humanity.
This production is intimate: The audience practically sits in the classroom designed by Ting Na Wang. Lo's sound design and Tina Finkelstein's lighting design are nearly flawless (and I only say "nearly" because the lighting made a certain costume made from white sheets appear yellow from where I was sitting, and it took a moment longer than necessary for the joke to land).
The actors navigate the script valiantly. There are moments of laugh-out-loud comedy followed by clunky exposition or heated debates, and they often follow incongruously after one another. At times, the script feels ... well, like a script, as if the playwright is simply using his characters to debate for the sake of presenting a debate. Lacson's Chester is hilariously cartoonish, although his larger-than-life approach to the character is often out of step with the rest of the more-muted cast. His scenes were the clear crowd-pleasers, especially as his rhetoric (and costume choices) got more ridiculous. Steffen's Veronica, in contrast, was more subtle, almost distractingly so. I wanted to see more of her humor and spunk but felt like it got lost. Reitz's Del was endearing, but I had trouble believing that he was as dumb as Del was supposed to be. Perhaps that's on the playwright though — there were too many moments when I felt like Golamco was using Del as a mouthpiece to comment on Travis's actions. Gonzales's Travis felt the most "real" of all of the characters, though I wished for more chemistry between him and Veronica.
So: who is this "Asian-American story" for? What does it mean for the Pear's primarily white audience to laugh as Chester calls out his own racism or watch Travis and Veronica muddle through a conversation about Veronica's fetishization of white men? The dialogue is an important one, even if the vehicle misses some of the weight that the subject matter deserves. It's worth seeing the play and gauging your reactions for yourself.
What: "Cowboy vs. Samurai."
Where: Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St, Mountain View.
When: Through April 8 (see online for specific showtimes).
Info: Go to thepear.org.
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