Did you ever have a nerdy friend in high school? Or maybe you were the nerdy friend?
Someone who was super into anime, comic books, sword fights; always had a corny joke or a geeky pop-culture reference; totally into cosplay; also super-smart and knew really weird but cool stuff about history? Maybe queer? Maybe not? Super creative, super self-aware but also sort of a mess which kind of bugged you but at exactly the moment you were going to give up on them you realized they had a heart of gold and were doing the right thing?
If you could roll all that up into a play, it'd be Qui Nguyen's world premiere work, "Revenge Song."
Like that friend, there's a lot to this play. So let's start with the core story. The inspiration for "Revenge Song" is a real-life 17th century queer, opera singing, sword-fighting, generally badass woman named Julie d’Aubigny.
The known details of her story are remarkable. It's her life that drives us through the story and on the simplest level it's a coming out story — if that coming out story also included puppets and sword fights and spitting rhymes and rock ballads and bad french accents and... you get it, this is neither your traditional historical drama nor your straight narrative (in all senses of that word).
Instead, it's the quirky creation of Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker's company Vampire Cowboys. The Geffen Playhouse commissioned the play and then partnered with Vampire Cowboys on this world premiere. That in itself is reason to see the show. It shouldn't be notable but one of our big theaters doing the premiere of a new play that also is breaking the traditional mold is a rare and promising sign of hope. While Vampire Cowboys is a New York company, this is a play built in LA. There are cheesy jokes about horse and buggy traffic on the 405 and references to In-N-Out and the Hollywood sign. I get that those are small details, but they matter. When this play goes on to other cities, and tweaks those references to match the place, it's important that this show was made for LA.
It's a play that's diverse — not just in its casting and characters but in its modes of storytelling and theatrical devices. We get sweet simple dance numbers, and fight scenes (lots of fight scenes), and over-the-top corny musical numbers, and touching ballads, and raunchy puppets, and live video that somehow combines all of that with an action-movie-if-made-by-theatre-geeks-in-a-basement vibe.
It's all sort of dazzling ... but it's also a lot.
If you're expecting same old, same old - you'll be disappointed. Even if you're up for the ride, there are moments when you'll lose patience but right before you give up, I bet, like that geeky friend, you'll recognize this is a sweet show. It's a show that's having fun and laughs at itself and let's face it: when's the last time you saw a show about a 17th century queer badass?
"Revenge Song: A Vampire Cowboy Creation" plays at the Geffen Playhouse through March 8th.