Opening night of These Paper Bullets! at Yale Rep was a big deal for me.
- I have what might be classified as an unusual familiarity with the work of the adaptor, director and cast, having covered them avidly during their various student days at the Yale School of Drama and beyond.
- I’m a big Beatles fan, the kind that has always owned all the albums, has read hundreds of books, gone to conventions, etc.
- Like Shakespeare too. Especially like Shakespeare well-adapted to modern times.
- Brought my nine-year-old daughter. We’d prepared by seeing Kenneth Branagh’s film of Much Ado About Nothing (the play on which These Paper Bullets! is based) and A Hard Day’s Night. Wanted her to like it.
- I’d been getting over a three-day illness. Felt like laughing.
My full review of the show for the New Haven Independent (here) covers a lot of key points:
- How These Paper Bullets! goes a lot further than just changing the time and place; reining in the sexism and violence of the original while furthering its frankness and open sexuality.
- What a great ensemble show this is.
- How well the transposition to ‘60s Beatle-besotted England works.
- How playwright Rolin Jones lets a lot of actual Shakespeare lines in the script, not feeling he needs to revise what already works fine.
- How large the challenges are that the company set for itself, in style and in scope and in speed, and how capably these challenges are met.
- How you can sit back and enjoy, knowing that you’re in good hands and there to be entertained.
- How catchy and useful Billie Joe Armstrong’s songs are.
Toppermost of the poppermost, to be sure. So, what else is there to say?
This, for starters:
• I loooooooove Stephen DeRosa. I’ve seen him add so much to so many shows over the years, without upstaging, that I think directors should hire him the way they have jumper cables in their cars. He’s a secret weapon, he is. He starts out doing a decent job as “Leo,” father of “Higgy” (Leonato, Hero’s dad in Much Ado), then gradually becomes the barometer of how nuts the show becomes. He vamps deliriously during a long set change. He adds multiple accents and hidden sides to his character. He remains believable as a disappointed, then revengeful, father. Mostly, he makes you laugh.
• It’s also a great joy to see Jeanine Serralles, Brad Heberlee, Anthony Manna and Liz Wisan on a Yale stage again. I remember them all fondly from their School of Drama shows. Adam O’Byrne, who’d already returned to the Rep earlier this season in A Streetcar Named Desire, shows the comic side of the simmering slow burn he mastered for that Williams classic. It’s also nice to see him reunited with Rolin Jones and Jackson Gay; O’Byrne was in Gay’s Yale Rep production of Jones’ The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow.
• Representatives of the current crop of YSD students acquit themselves well playing opposite their elders. Jabari Brisbort wears a dress. Ceci Fernandez squeals like a hawk.
• The Beatles’ references aren’t generic or ill-researched. They’re as parodically provocative as the best of all Beatles parodies, The Rutles. The short documentary film showing the history of The Quartos—Claude, Ben, Pedro and Balth (aka Claudio, Benedick, Don Pedro and Balthasar)—is full of perfect little gags. The Quartos Hard Day’s Night is A Midsummer Day’s Night.
• Rolin Jones isn’t afraid to have a Shakespeare character say “Love’s a sack of dicks!”
• Likewise, director Jackson Gay isn’t above staging not just a spit take that rebounds against a wall, but more than one bout of vomiting.
• Many of the staging ideas work well for Much Ado regardless of its updating. Gay has Claude receiving the news of Higgy’s betrayal on one side of the stage, while on the other we see the bride-to-be, blissfully unaware of the plot against her, preparing her wedding gown.
• Benedick’s putdown of Beatrice: “I would not marry her if she were made of chocolate, gold coins and drugs.”
• The Let It Be rooftop concert bit.
• The “Hey Jude” bit—a powerful Billie Joe Armstrong song called “Regretfully Yours” that single-songedly replaces the third and fourth scenes of Shakespeare’s fifth act and gives Claude a searing guitar solo.
• The new monologue, spouted by James Lloyd Reynolds as the George Martin-ish Anton (Much Ado’s Antonio), which expands upon Shakespeare’s “O, what men dare do! what men may do! what men daily do, not knowing what they do!” sentiment.
• The James Bond flourishes which update Dogsberry (here just Berry) from Keystone constable to clueless space-age secret agent commissioner.
Oh, it’s a panic, this These Paper Bullets! Yet for all its unfettered farce, the script doesn’t get as farfetched as Shakespeare’s, nor as cringingly chauvinist or militaristic. It doesn’t wander away from its plot or from the social-awareness points it insists on making.
It’s funny. It’s stupid. It’s serene. It has a sense of honor. It’s Shakespeare in the grounded sense and in the Groundling sense. It’s got Billie Joe Armstrong songs I’m still humming, and I hope will be committed to disk someday.
Much Ado? Something New.
These Paper Bullets! A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Adapted by Rolin Jones. Songs by Billie Joe Armstrong. Directed by Jackson Gay. Choreographer: Monica Bill Barnes. Music Director: Julie McBride. Scenic Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Jessica Ford. Lighting Designer: Paul Whitaker. Sound Designer and Incidental Music: Broken Chord. Projection Designer: Nicholas Hussong. Orchestrator and Arranger: Tom Kitt. Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis. Fight Director: Michael Rossmy. Production Dramaturgs: Ilya Khodosh and Catherine Sheehy. Casting Director: Tara Rubin and Lindsay Levine. Stage Manager: Robert Chikar. Performed by David Wilson Barnes (Ben), Bryan Fenkart (Claude), James Barry (Pedro), Lucas Papeaelias (Balth), Adam O’Byrne (Don Best), Jeanine Serralles (Bea), Ariana Venturi (Higgy), Keira Naughton (Ulcie), Ceci Fernandez (Frida), Stephen DeRosa (Leo), Andrew Musselman (Boris), Brian McManamon (Colin Rawlins), Greg Stuhr (Mr. Berry of Scotland Yard, The Caterer), Liz Wisan (Paulina Noble of the BBC, The Stylist, The Maid), Anthony Manna (Mr. Coal of the Yard), Jabari Brisbort (Mr. Cake of the Yard, Dionne Warwick), Brian Heberlee (Mr. One-Too-Many-Martinis, The Photographer, The Tailor, Vicar of the church), Christopher Geary (The Bouncer, The Recording Engineer, David Hockney, The Bellman, The Barman, The Queen of the Realm),
Presented through April 5 by the Yale Repertory Theatre at the Yale University Theatre (222 York St., New Haven; 203-432-1234, www.yalerep.org).