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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
These Paper Bullets
By Elyse Sommer
As directed by Jackson Gay, and with Green Day lead man providing a bunch of original Beatle-like song These Paper Bullets delightfully and successfully brings together the unlikely mix of Liverpoolian and Shakespearean dialogue. Given a cast that besides being comfortable in classic as modern roles can sing and dance, this play with music has been a hit in its previous stops in Connecticut and Los Angeles.
As is usual with shows moving from place to place there have been a few changes between Connecticut and Los Angeles and again from there to New York. But the Atlantic Theater run is again a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
Depending on your age, you'll enjoy re-experiencing the colorful Mod look of mid-1960s and the excitement of the Beatles coming on scene, or get a funny, flavorful taste of what you missed. Since Jones clearly loves Shakespeare as much as the Beatles he sticks pretty closely to the Much Ado About Nothing Plot. But while familiarity with that play will heighten your appreciation of the cleverness of what he's done, it's not a must.
As Shakespeare had his lords — Benedict, Claudio, Pedro and Balthathar — returning to the city of Messina after waging a successful battle, So Jones has his lords-cum-musicians return to London from a triumphant American tour. As Ben is obviously Benito, Claude the new Claudio, and Balth the new Balthathar so it won't take you long to spot the Beatle each Quarto is meant to be. For sure, the actors playing them couldn't be better. Having followed Justin Kirk's career and admired him since seeing him in Old Wicked Songs almost twenty year's ago and most recently in The Invisible Bond I was especially pleased to discover his comic and singing talents. Less familiar to me, but equally terrific as Ben's feisty love interest, is Nicole Parker's Bea.
It's also great fun to watch Bryan Fenkart and Ariana Venturi as Shakespeare's second pair of lovers, Claudio and Hero(renamed Higgy, a sly rhymed nod to the era's famously thin as a twig model Twiggy) overcome headline making slander for her and accusations of infidelity for him. Another favorite of mine, Stephen DeRosa, doesn't disappoint as Bea and Higgy's dad, Leo Messina.
The source play's funny men, amusingly renamed Dogberry, Verges and Seacol, provide some of the show's best comic shtick — Greg Shtur as Mr. Berry, Brad Heberle as Mr. Urges and Tony Manna as Mr. Coal. As Chesley Plemmons said of this English language mangling trio, they're actually funnier than the Shakespeare's clowns.
Other standouts include Adam O'Byrne as Don Jon cleverly retooled as the villainous Don Best (an actual disenfranchised Beatle member) and Liz Wisan as a deliciously overbearing gossip journalist. It's a large cast, so a shout out to one and all.
Michael Yeargin's period and mood setting scenery is greatly enriched throughout by Nicholas Hussong's projections which at one point include shots of audience. Paul Whitaker's lighting is especially effective during a musical number called "Baby Blues." As for Jessica Ford's costumes, they're a show in themselves.
While the Atlantic program doesn't include a song list there's no shortage of ear-pleasing numbers , most of which could be described as Billie Joe Armstrong's homage to the Beatles. And all of which are splendidly performed.
What would keep this from being a 10 if we ranked shows by numbers and 10 equating a perfect score, is the failure to edit out some of over-the-top comic shtick (which I find applicable to much of the comic business in true-to-Shakespeare plays). Two and hours and fifteen minutes, not counting the intermission, is just a bit too much of a good thing.
Links to These Paper Bullets in Connecticut and Los Angeles .