From its pre-show notice to turn off all cell phones (designed as a trailer for a vengeance thriller), The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G explodes with finely tuned action and humor. The latest offering from the Vampire Cowboys, a downtown theater company with a commitment to producing “the most badass and cutting-edge geek entertainment possible,” Agent G combines the Cowboys’ signature spontaneous genre-shifting and fight-filled style with the more mundane yet poignant struggles of truth that a playwright undergoes during the writing process.
The play within the play is the third attempt in a trilogy, the Gook Trilogy, to accurately depict the story of the playwright’s cousins and their torturous journey to America. After two faulty attempts (which we see hilariously depicted in brief synopses), we now see the playwright, played by William Jackson Harper, and his influences as he tests out material and wrestles with how to most faithfully tell his cousins’ tale.
What results is a series of comic vignettes and visually stimulating action sequences that are interspersed by the more human interruptions of the playwright. This contrast ingeniously starts off as a delightful peek into reality, until the repetition of failures begins to produce an irritation from the audience similar to the journey of the actors in the writer’s piece. (By the end, we just want to see him finally get his story out and get it right.)
The success of this clever piece lies largely in the excellent performances of the cast. Playing multiple roles, each cast member switches cleanly and clearly from role to role. Jon Hoche is loveable and laughable as the “Gook Monster,” yet also intense in the various comic villainous characters he presents; William Jackson Harper is bumbling yet poetic in his desperation and noble exploration; Bonnie Sherman is natural and memorable in the elasticity of her portrayals; and Amy Kim Waschke is electric in the physical dynamics she brings to each character onstage. As the “leading male actor,” Paco Tolson switches from genre to genre with grace, while also serving his role with charm and familiarity as the Playwright’s guide and chiding partner.
Technically speaking, Agent G is a delight to watch. The lighting and set design by Nick Francone efficiently converts the small downtown space into a total environment, and the costume design by Jessica Wegener Shay provides quick and distinct changes to each character.
Vampire Cowboys has decided with the ever-changing climate of New York theater that it is time to either evolve or die. If The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G is any indication of what is to come for this troupe in the future, Darwin won’t be meeting them in the afterlife anytime soon.
Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company in association with Incubator Arts Project; By Qui Nguyen; Directed by Robert Ross Parker; St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street (at 2nd Avenue); http://www.vampirecowboys.com/shows.htm; (212) 420-1916