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Review: Geffen Playhouse and The Atlantic Theater Company Presents ‘These Paper Bullets!’

From left, Damon Daunno, Llucas Papaelias, James Barry, and Justin Kirk as the Beatles look-a-likes, the Quatros.
From left, Damon Daunno, Llucas Papaelias, James Barry, and Justin Kirk as the Beatles look-alikes, the Quartos. Photos by Michael Lamont.

If you decide to see “These Paper Bullets!,” subtitled “A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare,” I will try to help you “Brush Up On Your Shakespeare” by providing a brief description of the cast of characters and action; otherwise, if I may paraphrase a quote a from “Macbeth” you might conclude that the evening was “… full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

Interspersing Shakespeare’s original language with more contemporary words, Rolan Jones’s overwritten script has moved the shenanigans from the familiar setting of Messina to London, during the hey day of the swinging mod era, when women wanted to look like Twiggy, wore miniskirts with go-go boots, topped with mod or cropped hairstyles. Augmenting “the look,” was an abundance of drugs, with Quaaludes and Vodka chasers being the drugs of choice. Stir in lots of sex, a Beatles look-alike band named “The Quortos,” playing lots of catchy rock ‘n’ roll songs written by Billie Joe Armstrong, and you’ll have an overall picture of what is taking place on that crowded stage.

Directed by Jackson Gay, a lot of the frenetic, hard-to-follow craziness takes place in the Messina Hotel, owned by Leo Messina (Nick Ullett.) His daughter Higgy (Ariana Venturi) is habitually stoned. She is in love with Claude (Damon Daunn) a Quortos band member and popular teenage idol. The other musicians are Pedro (James Barry), who comes up with some questionable schemes, Balth (Lucas Papaelias), and Ben (Justin Kirk), a cynical former soldier whose fans throw themselves at his feet begging to have his children. Screaming girls are depicted through giant projections designed by Nicholas Hussong, with other huge projections supporting the current on-stage action.

Nicole Parker and Justin Kirk in "These Paper Bullets!"
Nicole Parker and Justin Kirk in “These Paper Bullets!”

Every Shakespeare play has a villain and in this one his name is Don Best (Adam O’Byrne). Don is really pissed off as he was fired as the band’s drummer and is now relegated to the position of “roadie.” To get even, he concocts a diabolical scheme to sabotage the upcoming nuptials between Higgy and Claude by doctoring a photograph showing Higgy in a sex act with Boris (Rod McLachlan). The woman in that photograph is actually her “friend” Ulcie (Keira Naughton). In a nasty act of vengeance, Don ceremoniously presents the photo at Higgy and Claude’s highly publicized nuptials, at which point Claude walks out of the wedding in disgust. In an effort to find out who was behind this terrible plot, her dad tells everyone that Higgy became despondent and died but in reality, she has locked herself away in her room, wailing continuously for several weeks.

Add to the mix Bea (Nicole Parker), a successful fashion designer who has very protective instincts towards her stoner cousin Higgy. Bea is secretly in love with her former lover Ben, who is basically commitment phobic. Veiling their real feelings for each other, the repartee between them is hostile, but comic. Not to worry, though, as truelove prevails in the end.

Cast shot of "These Paper Bullets!"
Cast shot of “These Paper Bullets!”

Rounding out the list of zany characters are the inept, bungling Scotland Yard detectives. The squad consists of Mr. Berry (Greg Stuhr) who like Mrs. Malaprop,* fractures the English language; Mr. Cake (Tony Mann); Mr. Urges/Reverend (Brad Heberlee); and Mr. Crumpet (Christopher Geary, as well as the Queen in drag.) In order to find out what everyone is doing, these Inspector Clouseau-type nitwits plant bugged lampshades in the hotel to find out what everyone is up to.

Reporting on the activities of The Quortos is Paulina Noble (Kate Blumberg), an obnoxious but funny BBC reporter who delivers a comical blow-by-blow description of the antics, including the wedding disaster. With a not-so-subtle reference to the Beatles, when the wedding between Higgy and Claude finally takes place, the groom asks for the “ring-o,” and presumably everyone lives happily ever after, or in the words of the Bard, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

All's Well That Ends Well.
All’s Well That Ends Well.

The production values are excellent with the revolving set by Michael Yeargan creating the Messina Hotel, recording studio, Bea’s dress shop, or a stage for “live” performances by The Quortos. Jessica Ford’s costumes capture the look of the freewheeling ’60s. Music director Julie McBride and Broken Chord’s sound design and incidental music, adds to the overall musical content of the play, which is the most satisfying component. Paul Whitaker’s lighting design, drenched the stage in cotton-candy colors and like that confection, leaves the audience with an enjoyable sugary aftertaste, but not much substance.

“These Paper Bullets!” is currently playing at the Geffen Playhouse at 10886 Le Conte Ave. Tickets are $43-$82.

Show are running Tuesday – Friday: 8 pm; Saturday: 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday: 2 pm: & 7pm.

The show closes Sunday, Oct. 18.

For tickets or more information call 310.208.5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.

*A character made famous for her usage of incorrect words that almost sound the same. It is also referred to as a “Dogberryism,” stemming from a character named Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

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