"These Paper Bullets"

--Irene Backalenick

Wild, goofy, comic, fresh, innovative, clever. These are the words which come to mind, as we contemplate “These Paper Bullets,” just opened at the Yale Rep. This totally irreverent show takes on no less a revered playwright than William Shakespeare. The show wreaks havoc with the Shakespearean plot of “Much Ado About Nothing,” turning it into a rock-and-roll musical, no less.

Not that playing with Shakespeare is a new idea. We’ve had those modern dress versions, abridged versions, musical versions numerous times. But this time we can forgive playwright Rolin Jones, director Jackson Gay, songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong, set designer Michael Yeargan, costumer Jessica Ford, and the cast, for such sacrilege. They have all collaborated to create something special.

Moreover, it is fascinating to watch the values of an earlier time morph into modern values. “Much Ado” has moved to the 1960s, in London, and rebellion is in the air. Women are gaining their voices, and chastity is no longer the measure of a good woman. Bea states it clearly when she says that women are equally entitled, as men are, to sexual freedom.

This time it is not the boys back from the wars, but four young musicians called “The Quartos” (a take-off on the Beatles). Beatrice and Benedict, those two sparring partners, have become Bea and Ben, while the young lovers Hero and Claudio are now Higgy and Claude. Both the boys are Quartos musicians, and the girls are designers and models. Heavy drugs, rock music, casual sex, pot and partying are all in place.

What of the cast itself? The tiny, slim Jeanine Serralles stands out as a first-class comic, using body, voice, gesture, movement to create a memorable Bea. And, amazingly, when she lapses into familiar Shakespearean dialogue with Ben, jolting the listener from the 1960s to the past, she articulates those lines beautifully as well.

The cast, as a whole, is on target, whether it is The Quartos in Beatles attire or myriads of fans throwing themselves at their feet. David Wilson Barnes is an oafish but charming Ben, who holds his own with Bea. Bryan Fenkart and Ariana Venturi, as the other couple, are the epitome of young love in today’s world. Others worth noting are Stephen DeRosa as Higgy’s father, Keira Naughton as Higgy’s friend, and Adam O’Byrne as the evil former Quarto. The Quartos themselves (including James Barry and Lucas Papaelias) come across believably as rock musician types

If there is any criticism to make, it is that the show is too much of a good thing, goes on too long, exhibits too much chaos -- a veritable donnybrook. The non-wedding of Higgy and Claude, for example, is a case in point. It suffers by comparison to the original “Much Ado,” scene, so beautifully understated.

Yet “These Paper Bullets” is to be complimented as a fresh, sassy, in-your-face show.

 

 

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