New take on ‘Cyrano’ scenario

Whether it was funny man Steve Martin’s role as the fire chief with the super-sized schnoz in “Roxanne” or the switcheroo pulled by

Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman in “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” chances are you’re probably familiar with the basic premise of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

Plagued by a case of incessant self-doubt due to an oversized nose, a brilliant poet and swordsman named Cyrano is unable to profess his love to the woman he longs for. In a move of self-sacrifice, he helps his much better-looking but rather pedestrian rival garner her affection instead.

Beginning today, San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company presents Michael Golamco’s romantic comedy “Cowboy vs. Samurai,” a modern reinterpretation of the classic tale with a decidedly Asian flair.

What separates “Cowboy vs. Samurai” from other meditations on “Cyrano” is that Golamco ditches the hurdle of having a huge honker and trades it in for the hot-button obstacles of race and ethnic identity.

“Race is definitely the big nose here,” says the up-and-coming playwright, who will be in San Francisco this weekend for Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances. “I think it’s an interesting lens to look through.

“People are always playing the race card to save themselves. We have to look inside and ask ourselves: How do we perceive ourselves? How do we use race as an excuse for ourselves? Do we use it as a way to create forms of rejection for ourselves?”

“Cowboy vs. Samurai” centers on the lives of two Asian-Americans living in the small town of Breakneck, Wyo., who suddenly find their lives turned upside down when a smart and gorgeous Korean-American teacher from New York arrives.

Travis, a well-spoken English teacher, is essentially a thinly veiled version of Cyrano. He is Korean and, with the exception of Chester, is the only other Asian living in the white hamlet.

When biology teacher Veronica enters the picture, Travis competes for her attention against Del, the hunky-but-dopey local cowboy and gym teacher.

Veronica admittedly has a thing for dating only white men and naturally the pain of unrequited love ensues.

The question at hand is who best to choose: the emotionally complex Travis or the foxy but inarticulate Del?

“When you have all very likable characters it makes the conflict very interesting. You don’t know which character to root for,” says Golamco. “You want the situation to resolve itself in a way that allows everybody to win, but not everyone can — that’s basically life. Even the best people can get screwed over.”

Cowboy vs. Samurai

Presented by Asian American Theater Company

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; closes July 22

Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 543-5738; www.asianamericantheater.org

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