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Soul Samurai at InFusion Theatre Company | Theater review

Ninja, please: Qui Nguyen’s cinematic blend of Bruce Lee and blaxploitation gets a rollicking Chicago debut from InFusion.

Photograph: Anthony LaPenna
Soul Samurai at InFusion Theatre Company

InFusion’s mission is to “create dynamic performances by combining different forms of entertainment.” Call it a rousing success, because the Midwest debut of New York wizard Nguyen’s 2009 Soul Samurai is a hybrid theater/kung fu/video/hip-hop piece that comes together in a hilarious and wildly inventive production that’s unique on the Chicago stage.

Young samurai Dewdrop (Christine Lin) blazes a path of destruction across a postapocalyptic New York ruled by three powerful shoguns, seeking revenge against Boss 2K, Shogun of the Longtooh Clan, for killing her lover Sally December. The far-ranging story convincingly evokes its Bruce Lee and blaxploitation heritage with jive-talking ghetto ninja characters. Performances vary but everyone clearly gets the style; Steve Thomas turns out a show-stealing riot as Dewdrop’s faithful sidekick, Cert (short for Death Certificate).

Soul Samurai’s technical elements are amazing. Video is integrated to superb effect, with ’60s Batman “thwacks” punctuating the action and splattering blood filling in the gore. DJ Jesse Livingston spins an alluring soundtrack, hyping the copious fight scenes and underscoring the drama with a head-bobbing mix from RZA’s best early Wu-Tang beats. Organic and ingenious, they play together as mood-setting backdrop and a mechanism for wild innovation in mixed-media theater.

One quibble: All this superb style sometimes buries the human story at Soul Samurai’s core. The total package feels very Tarantino but lacks the focus to transcend homage. Still, this stellar production is an absolute blast of originality.

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