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Stylized fight sequences, monsters and vampires, and a post-apocalyptic dystopia, all painted with a broad comic palette. And a sweet, tragic love story too.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Six Rounds of Vengeance’ by Qui Nguyen and Vampire Cowboys

Jamie Dunn (Jess December) and Nicky Schmidlein (Queen Mad) in 'Six Rounds of Vengeance.' Photo by Theresa Squire
Jamie Dunn (Jess December) and Nicky Schmidlein (Queen Mad) in ‘Six Rounds of Vengeance.’ Photo by Theresa Squire
When you work with a formula, how do you keep it fresh? Playwright Qui Nguyen, director Robert Ross Parker, and Vampire Cowboys consistently deliver horror-comedy-swordplay theater inspired by comic books, trashy scary movies, and video games. Their new Six Rounds of Vengeance has it all: stylized fight sequences, monsters and vampires, and a post-apocalyptic dystopia, all painted with a broad comic palette. How do they create a new show and keep it fresh?

Nguyen has found one good answer: Make it about the relationships. A sensitive script and some very good acting make the two primary relationships in this show resonant and touching.

One-time meek little girl Jess December (Jamie Dunn), now a fierce but amusingly voluble bladeswoman, has been fighting her way though the ruins of “Lost” Vegas for years with her best buddy Lucky (Tom Myers) – non-combative but with a secret weapon against the vampires – by her side.

One day on the badlands of the desert city, Jess and Lucky run into Malcolm (Sheldon Best), an ex-cop trying to stay true to his calling to “protect and serve” in the new wilderness of bandits, kidnappers, and the undead. Malcolm’s relationship with his husband Nathaniel (Jon Hoche) is the heart of the story. We see in flashback Nathaniel’s proposal, the well-drawn emotional complexities of courtship and marriage, their dramatic re-encounter in the present day with everything utterly changed, and even a home movie. (As is their wont, Vampire Cowboys makes clever use of video. This show’s turn-off-your-cell-phone announcement is not to be missed.)

Nicky Schmidlein (Queen Mad), Jon Hoche (Nathaniel), Sheldon Best (Malcolm Price) in 'Six Rounds of Vengeance.' Photo by Theresa Squire.
Nicky Schmidlein (Queen Mad), Jon Hoche (Nathaniel), Sheldon Best (Malcolm Price) in ‘Six Rounds of Vengeance.’ Photo by Theresa Squire.
Highlights of the more physical and gory side of the show include Jess’s determined and droll attempt to escape her bounds after her capture; Queen Mad’s (Nicky Schmidlein) over-the-top speech about how a mundane life can be redeemed by a “magnificent” death; some hilarity with a bag of heads; and a spectacular true-self revelation at the end. Thunderous sound (Shane Rettig), cool and changeable costumes (Kristina Makowski), magnificent puppet design (David Valentine), and scenic design worthy of he biggest Punch and Judy show you’ve ever seen (Nick Francone) combine to gild admirable performances. Creating relatable characters in a comic horror-fantasy setting is no mean trick. Kudos to this crew for another laugh-out-loud shtick-fest with an unexpected level of character depth.

Six Rounds of Vengeance runs at the New Ohio Theatre through May 16.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases.Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires.Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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