Six Rounds of Vengeance, the newest show from the Vampire Cowboys now playing at the New Ohio Theatre, was one of my most anticipated shows this spring. I have been a fan of the Vampire Cowboys since seeing Alice in Slasherland back in 2010. They combine two things I love, theater and geek culture, and their shows often feature women, Asian, and LGBT characters in leading roles. Since then, I’ve seen She Kills Monsters, The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G, and the 2013 Alice in Slasherland reunion at the Incubator Arts Project. Needless to say, I am a fan of the Vampire Cowboys and admire them for putting on these unique, entertaining niche shows that really appeal to my sensibilities.
That being said, Six Rounds of Vengeance was a letdown. The show doesn’t have the heart of She Kills Monsters and Agent G or the humor of Alice in Slasherland, but the show’s biggest problem is its plot, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As clichéd as it is, Six Rounds of Vengeance is a rare misfire for the Vampire Cowboys.
The story, set in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, centers on gunslinger Malcolm Price. He is a former police officer who lost everything, including the love of his life Nathaniel, when the country was taken over by vampire-like creatures called long-tooths. In his quest for vengeance, he teams up with bounty hunters Jess December and Lucky, and together, they search for Queen Mad, the longtooth who killed Nathaniel.
First, let’s talk about what works in Six Rounds of Vengeance. Its cast is small, only five people playing all the roles, but everyone is very talented. Jamie Dunn as Jess gets to show off her physical comedy skills, trying to squeeze and squirm her way out of captivity. Nicky Schmidlein as Queen Mad is hard-core channeling Jane Curtin with her sharp line deliveries and big smile as she murders countless innocent people. Tom Myers as Lucky transforms from gentle giant to monster, sometimes in just one scene.
The stand-outs of the show, however, are easily Sheldon Best as Malcolm and Jon Hoche as Nathaniel. Their doomed romance is the strongest part of the show’s otherwise convoluted plot, providing clear motivation for Malcolm seeking his revenge. Hoche and Best are both charismatic and likable on their own, and they play well off each other, especially the scene when Nathaniel proposes.
Other strong points are the show’s puppetry work in the big finale and the Claymation interlude about a sweet little tumbleweed and a bullying cactus. The story of the tumbleweed is the sort of silly non-sequitur humor that I enjoy in the Vampire Cowboys’ shows, and it is one of the strongest tie-ins to the Western motif.
Unfortunately, the show for the most part doesn’t have much to do with Westerns aside from Malcolm’s gunslinger outfit and the revenge plot. Even the title itself Six Rounds of Vengeance doesn’t make a lot of sense. It suggests that the show is a story of revenge with six different targets, like the Bride in Kill Bill. For example, I could have seen Malcolm as a gunslinger with six silver bullets saved specially for the six longtooths responsible for his husband’s death, but the “rounds” are really just chapter markers in the story and don’t hold special significance in the plot.
The world-building, or really lack of it, also doesn’t really tie into the Western theme. It is a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas called Lost Vegas, but most of it takes place in a desert more in line with Mad Max. Nothing is distinctly Las Vegas, and there are so many possibilities in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, like a fight scene in an abandoned casino, scavengers raiding the last of Celine Dion’s costumes, or gangs taking up residency in former luxury hotels along the Vegas strip. Instead, most of the action takes place out in a non-descript desert with an uncertain number of longtooths or scavengers around. This is one of the challenges of having a small cast in this kind of show. When the heroes can’t get attacked by more than 2 people at a time, it is nearly impossible to establish a threat like the walkers in The Walking Dead or hordes of vampires. Also, almost everyone except for Malcolm carries Katana swords, not six-shooters. Later on, it is revealed that longtooths can only be harmed by older weaponry, but this is supposed to be a new revelation.
Character motivations are also a major problem. Malcolm teaming up with Jess and Lucky doesn’t really make sense. He seeks them out because of their reputation of being able to kill longtooths, but when he finds them, they deny it and say that they lied. I thought that this would be a send-up of Seven Samurai, that Jess and Lucky talk a big game but are really harmless, and their rap number also plays into this idea. It is quickly dropped, though, and Lucky is revealed to be a secret monster who also happens to repel long-tooths. When they team up, they don’t have a compelling reason for traveling together, and Jess and Lucky’s motivations become more confused as the show goes on. Is she a scared little girl pretending to be a bad-ass? Did she befriend Lucky because she actually liked him or just because he could protect her? Their beauty-and-the-beast romance and Lucky’s monster ex machina conclusion don’t answer any of these questions but rather magnify how little they are both developed as characters.
Six Rounds of Vengeance isn’t a bad show, just a flawed one. Thanks in most part to the cast, it is still very entertaining and only 90 minutes with no intermission. Considering my past experiences with the Vampire Cowboys, however, I expected something more.
Vampire Cowboys’ Six Rounds of Vengeance opened April 25 and will run through May 16 at the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and available by phone at 1-888-596-1027 or online here.
April 25 at 8:00 PM
April 30 at 8:00 PM
May 1 at 8:00 PM
May 2 at 8:00 PM
May 3 at 8:00 PM
May 6 at 8:00 PM
May 7 at 8:00 PM
May 8 at 8:00 PM
May 9 at 8:00 PM
May 10 at 8:00 PM
May 13 at 8:00 PM
May 14 at 8:00 PM
May 15 at 8:00 PM
May 16 at 8:00 PM
Directions to the New Ohio Theatre: