Escaping to Small Town Midwest

by Artists at Play Producer and Cowboy Versus Samurai Director Peter J. Kuo

The Pacific Railroad
Currently, I’m staying the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The state’s most populated city containing about 60,000 residents. Later, I will be heading to Pine Bluffs, a small Wyoming town with a population of roughly 1,000 people. It lies along the first transcontinental railroad built by the Chinese. These are the traits of the fictional city of Breakneck, Wyoming, which is where Cowboy Versus Samurai playwright Michael Golamco has set his play. Two of the characters are native of the area, while the other two have moved in from the most populated cities in the U.S.; New York and Los Angeles.

When speaking to the playwright about why he selected Wyoming, he mentioned a couple of logistical reasons. One, he liked the idea of Veronica and Travis meeting in the middle of the U.S. from their respective cities of New York and Los Angeles. Second, the separation from a bigger population forces the issues of race which is addressed in hilarious and heart-felt ways for the play’s romantic triangle. Yet, I always felt there was something else about the setting that gave the play its special charm. I was trying to put my finger on the motivation the characters had that made them want to live in such an isolating situation. My personal road trip unexpectedly brought me to my answers.

A Photo of Wyoming from Peter's Travels
During the last six days, a large chunk of my time has been spent driving on the road past countless farms, forests and mountains. Upon crossing the state line from Utah to Wyoming I saw a fast change in the landscape. What started out as beautifully layered cliffs changed to vast open fields. Traveling from west to east of the state it became alarmingly clear that its towns and cities were few and far between. At first the thoughts rushing through my head were of concern. Concerns of breaking down and being stranded in the middle of nowhere, or being quickly faced by racism or other forms of bigotry. (Thankfully, upon pulling into a gas station, a van of older Asians arrived. They seemed like tourists but at least I felt I was not alone.) After the initial fear, I became flooded with a much more relieving feeling. The vast emptiness let me escape from my concerns. As I traveled father and farther from Los Angeles; personal, familial and professional issues seemed to be less pressing.

Suddenly, Travis and Veronica’s motivations to move to Breakneck became clear. For them, moving to Middle America--where they are the only Asians and don’t know anyone--is like hitting a reset button. You drop all your troubles, pick up your bags and just disappear. But as I was reminded of my many obligations (writing this blog being one of them) the characters of Cowboy Versus Samurai are unable to leave behind the issues of their past relationships. While the feeling of escaping life’s issues feels fantastic, it is fleeting. This play serves as a reminder that one shouldn’t simply escape their personal troubles by running away to a small town. It is in the challenge of facing our issues that grow us to be more complex and interesting people.

Join us for Artists at Play's third production, Cowboy Versus Samurai, beginning September 26 and running through October 20. For tickets:

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