East meets West meets France

Cowboy versus Samurai turns unlikely inspiration into a play on Asian American experiences

by Katie Wilber

Take the classic love story of Cyrano de Bergerac, move the setting from France to the American West and tweak the story to show the struggles Asian Americans face.

And donít forget to add some comedy.

The end result is the regional premiere of ìCowboy Versus Samurai,” the latest offering from Theater Mu and Mu Performing Arts.

ìAsian men are usually portrayed as evil, or Genghis Khan figures,” actor Kurt Kwan said, ìand they hardly ever get the girl in the end.”

ìCowboy Versus Samurai” reverses this stereotype with an Asian man as the romantic lead. Itís a move that speaks to Mu Performing Artsí mission.

The company has spent the past 14 years combining Western art forms with traditional Asian forms ó just as Asians and Asian Americans blend aspects of Western and traditional lifestyles.

ìThis show doesnít have the traditional aspect of Asian American theater in a sense,” said artistic director Rick Shiomi. ìBut the subject matter and social perspective is really Asian American.”

The character of Cyrano de Bergerac has an enormous nose and uses his eloquent poetry to combat his belief that no woman could ever fall in love with him. He is in love with a beautiful woman, who asks him to help her get closer to another man ó which he does in spite of his own love for her.

In ìCowboy Versus Samurai,” only two Asian Americans live in the podunk village of Breakneck, Wyo. While this presents a few problems already, the true issues donít arise until Veronica Lee, a Korean American schoolteacher from New York City, shows up in town.

In this case the contemporary tale tells of the Cyrano-inspired character, an English teacher, who writes love letters for a Caucasian man.

ìThereís a whole phenomenon going on right now with sexual politics,” Shiomi said. ìMany fourth-generation Asian Americans are marrying out, and there are interesting ideas about why thatís happening.”

Shiomi suggested ideas of self-esteem and assimilation that perhaps influence the social and political issues of interracial dating and marriage. Theater Muís production explores some of the same themes.

Kwan sees the play as a catalyst for new works by Asian-American playwrights.

ìEarlier Asian American plays tended to be stuck in the past, but there are new writers with voices that speak to our generation,” he said. ìAnd they bridge political aspects like exoticism and identity in a fresh way.”

ìCowboy Versus Samurai,” through its mix of politics, comedy and classic love story, manages this social commentary without getting bogged down in complaints, biases or blame.