Beatles Meet “Much Ado” in Yale Premiere
By Tom Holehan
Blimey! Get out your love beads and Nehru jackets, “These Paper Bullets!” is making its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre. This semi-musical, “modish ripoff” of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, will be a nostalgia binge for all those old hippies out there with fond memories of the swinging ‘60s.
With a too-clever-by-half modern adaptation of “Much Ado” by Rolin Jones and faux Beatles songs by Billie Joe Armstrong, “These Paper Bullets!” uses the basic story of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy and gives it a Carnaby Street beat. Ben is the leader of “The Quartos”, an obvious parody of the famed mop tops, who fosters a love/hate relationship with the independent Bea, the head designer of a fashionable couture line. The secondary romance between Higgy, one of Bea’s top models and Claude, another Quarto, upstages Bea and Ben’s rocky romance for much of the play which features incidental music by the band. The music, by the way, is close enough to the real thing to make one speculate as to whether a lawsuit is pending.
The first act of “These Paper Bullets!” may try your patience (especially with those thick Liverpudlian accents) as Jones sets out the elaborate plotting that Shakespeare concocted over 400 years ago. By act two, however, Shakespeare seems to take a backseat as a mishmash of silly jokes, lewd innuendos, bad puns, slapstick, sight gags, running gags, bodily function humor and Pythonesque ribaldry are put into motion to almost exhausting effect. Indeed an elaborately staged fight scene late in the play goes on far longer than need be and seemed to please the actors far more than the audience.
But the second act also has some uproarious set pieces especially the ill-fated wedding between Claude and Higgy (Bryan Fenkart and Ariana Venturi, delightful) which includes a pushy BBC reporter (the hilarious Liz Wisan), a gaggle of fame-seeking bridesmaids (with Keira Naughton the most outrageously funny) and Dionne Warwick and the Queen of England (both played perfectly by men). The show could, in the end, use some tightening with less reliance on Shakespeare and much more music. At a nearly three hour running time, the handful of songs offered seem a cheat with singers this talented at the ready.
In the large and gifted ensemble of actors, Jeanine Serralles is a lit firecracker infusing Bea with hot-blooded fury and passion. One only wishes David Wilson Barnes’s Ben matched her energy. He’s a fine musician and singer but his acting could use a jolt. Adam O’Byrne, who resembles a young Christopher Walken, is all repressed anger as the disgruntled and rejected member of the band and Stephen DeRosa is a hoot playing Higgy’s anxious father. At one amusing interlude, while awaiting a set change, he leads the audience in singing an old Irish ditty.
The ingenious scenic design by Michael Yeargan works splendidly hopping from Bea’s trendy flat to the Quarto’s rehearsal studio and Jessica Ford’s costuming has a ball with a series of pop-art frocks for the ladies. Nicholas Hussong’s projections add immeasurably to this big and busy production under the breathless direction of Jackson Gay. In all, it’s a very good first draft…just waiting to get better.
“These Paper Bullets!” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through April 5. For ticket reservations call 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.