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BWW Review: Yale Rep's THESE PAPER BULLETS Captures 1964 Nostalgia at Geffen


These Paper Bullets/written by Rolin Jones/songs by Billie Joe Armstrong/directed by Jackson Gay/Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theater/through October 18

Commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre and premiering there in 2014, These Paper Bullets by Rolin Jones received 4 Connecticut Critics Awards and has been a highly anticipated arrival this fall at the Geffen Playhouse. Now onstage at the Gil Cates Theater through October 18, the show is a huge, if not over produced, endeavor. Subtitled A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, what we get is Shakespeare's plotline meshed with the music of The Quartos, a group that took the world by storm - not unlike the Beatles - in 1964. So, it's some Shakesperean verse rephrased with a Liverpool dialect, music reminiscent of the Beatles - all original music by Billie Joe Armstrong, front man of Green Day - and overblown satire on the pop culture that resulted, namely the crazy fashion trends and sexual escapades that rattled 1964 London and sent it reeling.

A committee investigating the marriage of one of the Quartos members - Claude (Damon Daunno) to wealthy hotel owner Leo Messina's (Nick Ullett) daughter Higgy (Ariana Venturi), poses the question upfront "What is wrong with the youth of England?" Quite amusing as three government toads try to figure out the tidal wave reaction to the Quartos' invasion of rock music. Remember how the Beatles turned American culture upside down, inside out at that time when they played The Ed Sullivan Show and the following year at Shea Stadium? Not only did millions of kids flock to see them and hang on every note, but they changed their hair-styles and their clothes to look exactly like, no... to become them. It was an astonishingly fast and furious transformation, so years later you have to stand back, take a long look, get as clear a perspective as possible... and laugh at it all. Who can explain a phenomenon? It's impossible. Rolin Jones' sense of humor throughout is broad, cheeky and terribly entertaining.

Claude and fiance Higgy are Claudio and Hero from Much Ado whose wedding is disrupted, not by Don John, an illegitimate relative who takes revenge, but here by Don Best (Adam O'Byrne) - who calls himself the Best-est - the musician that the Quartos let go. He wants revenge on the group and spreads ugly lies about Higgy's infidelities, which bring the wedding to a halt. Even the Queen herself is befuddled and passes out when she hears the outrageous slander. Shakespeare's Benedict and Beatrice, the couple who refuse to recognize love for one another and who are outspoken about the perils of marriage, try to help as much as they can. Beatrice (Nicole Parker) is a fashion guru and the cousin of Higgy. Ben (Justin Kirk) is another Quarto member who supports Claude. All works out happily in the end as this is based on Shakespearean comedy, not tragedy... but not without a multitude of mishaps, catastrophes and merry mix-ups.

To my mind These Paper Bullets is more a play with music than a musical. In a true musical, almost all the characters sing and the songs forward the plot. In Bullets, the Quartos sing 8 songs. They are the only singers, and the music is more performance/concert calibre, except for the last number "Regretfully Yours" that Claude sings to lure Higgy out of a hotel bedroom - where she has locked herself in - and back into his arms.

Under Jackson Gay's superior staging, the ensemble are dynamite from top to bottom. Parker is delicious as Beatrice. An expert physical comedienne, she is a delight in the scene in which she overhears gossip about Ben's loving her, and her big cake scene is full of anguish, frustration and confusion. A wonderful performance! Kirk as Ben is equally delightful as the man who changes his mind about the prospects of marriage. Daunno is fab in his final solo as Claude and Venturi makes a wonderfully distraught and victimized Higgy. O'Bryrne is hilarious as Don Best, as are Rod McLachlan as Boris, Tony Manna as Mr. Cake and Keira Naughton as Ulcie. Praise as well to James Barry as Pedro and Lucas Papaelias as Balth, who complete the Quartos.

Jessica Ford's costumes are spot.on mod with flashy colors for the gals. Remember those tight, short skirts, high go.go boots and those ridiculously useless helmets? Well, thankfully, they're all on gaudy display to enjoy. Michael Yeargan's platform-turning set works wondrously throughout.

Out of Much Ado comes a quote that is rephrased in this outing: "These paper bullets of the brain...shall they awe a bloke from his career of wants?" ... Paper bullets being the verbal ammunition or scathing words that prevent a man from experiencing true love. The message of necessity for change lingers on here, but the play's strongest asset is its sense of unbridled fun, and great attempts by Armstrong to really capture the Beatles' musical style.

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From This Author Don Grigware