Friday, March 02, 2007

PLAY: "The Jaded Assassin"

If you've been paying attention to martial arts movies, then you already know how that genre flick has grown into far more of an actual art form than the cheesy, badly dubbed, hastily edited films of our youth. Films like Kill Bill, with their choice lighting and dance-rhythms, have become more theatrical, not less, and so it should be no surprise to hear that Big Time Action Theater has put together a live-action response to the whole Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon era. Enter The Jaded Assassin.

The show, set atop a large gymnastic mat (for reasons that should be pretty obvious), uses only a backdrop for staging, though the place and setting aren't what's important. Instead, the script calls for a narrator (Laine D'Souza, stage left) and a Taiko drummer (Malika Duckworth, stage right), and everything else is pretty much left to the actors, who are as athletic as they are hammy. As the script meanders through spoofs of famous martial-arts conventions, the story tells of a young girl, Soon-Jai (Jo-Anne Lee), whose entire tribe was killed by a magical plague that conveniently waited until she had grown into the fiercest warrior in the land. Now, consumed by anger, she hunts the man responsible, an evil wizard named Rektor (Marius Hanford). Joining her is the lovestruck peasant boy, Ouyang Feng (Aaron Haskell) and his father, a wizard (Nick Arens) -- and between them, a whole bunch of talented warriors (Maggie MacDonald, David Solomon Rodriguez, Jason Schumacher, Tonie Tirado).

The Jaded Assassin keeps to a brisk pace: Michael Voyer writes only a few short romantic scenes (flashbacks between Soon-Jai and her dead love, Li), and Timothy Haskell throws in just enough stagecraft (from paper-mache-masked ghosts to bunraku puppet fights to a fullscale shadow war [using the scrim]) to keep the play original before handing the reins back to the fight choreographer, Rod Kinter. Even the fights are playful; this group must have just sat down and thought about what looked cool before thinking about how to stage it, because there are all sorts of gimmicks that are well worth the price of admission. From slow-motion Matrix spoofs to spring-loaded jumps and bungee-cord backflips, The Jaded Assassin is almost always successful. The one exception is a strobe-lit battle with the breakdancing Electricity, which is just a little too sloppy in execution. Aside from that, bring on the ball and chain, spear, sword, katana, and dagger, and turn up the "Seven Nation Army" and "Welcome to the Jungle" soundtrack (to name a few) -- it's time to get crazy on the stage.

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