Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

These Paper Bullets!
Yale Rep

Also see Zander's review of To Kill a Mockingbird


Ariana Venturi
The world premiere of These Paper Bullets!, at the University Theatre in New Haven through April 5th as part of Yale Rep's current season, exquisitely combines some characters and plot from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing with four 1960s British rock stars. The band of lads called The Quartos (who just might bring to mind a group called The Beatles) meet the Bard through an audacious idea conjured by Rolin Jones (adapting)—and the result is a theatrical stunner: the show is most clever, musically smashing, complex, intriguing, amusing, and joyful. Performed with feeling, vivacity, and great discipline and showcasing songs by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, it is a multi-dimensional hit. Director Jackson Gay should be afforded a long bow for bringing all of this together.

Much Ado finds Claudio in love with Hero but Claudio steps aside when he finds that Don Pedro is after her. These Paper Bullets! features Quarto Claude (Bryan Fenkart) and Higgy, a model (Ariana Venturi) as in Twiggy, as a potential pair. Those who wonder if Claude might be the "Paul" of this group are on the right track. Shakespeare fashioned Beatrice and Benedick as a squabbling couple. The equivalent is Ben (David Wilson Barnes), a Quarto who takes on the John Lennon role. Bea (Jeanine Serralles), a designer, is quick-witted and skeptical of Ben. Serralles is a gifted comedic/physical actress who isn't afraid to hit the floor, so to speak (her feature film credits include Inside Llewyn Davis and Across the Universe).

When the play begins, we are introduced to some Scotland Yard proper individuals who consider, "What is wrong with the youth of England?" It is then divulged that The Quartos have recently ditched a drummer and replaced him with Pedro (James Barry). The fourth member of the band is Balth (Lucas Papaelias), a George Harrison figure with guitar skills. Don Best (Adam O'Byrne), the former drumming Quarto, is the bad guy—the figure with the revenge motive. Some of us recall that Pete Best was with The Beatles before Ringo joined and the group catapulted to fame and fortune. In this case, Don Best tries to sabotage the wedding between Higgy and Claude. Best comes up with a photograph of a second man with Higgy, and so forth. Higgy's father Leo (Stephen DeRosa) is not in a great frame of mind and The Quartos cannot stay together. Mr. Berry (Greg Stuhr) of Scotland Yard gets in the middle of this mess and, as in another Shakespeare, all's well that ends well.

Much Ado About Nothing is often screwball comedy and These Paper Bullets!, in this manner, follows suit. Ben and Bea are mutually insulting yet drawn to one another. The current play (not listed as a musical but as "A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing") tosses out many a laugh-out-loud moment. It can be appreciated for its music, designers' touches, high level of performance ... and most of all for the juxtaposition of genres facilitated by the creative team.

The high caliber production team includes orchestrator and arranger Tom Kitt, music director Julie McBride, and scenic designer Michael Yeargan. Nicholas Hussong implements many projections since the BBC is, from time to time, covering the proceedings. Broken Chord provides sound design and Jessica Ford supplies bold mid-1960s outfits which are just a hoot.

Many of those on and off stage were or are Yale Drama School students. Everyone associated with this presentation seems to have caught the imaginative impulse and the result is exuberant, fanciful, invigorating theater. Every so often, the actor/musicians grab guitars to play and sing. Armstrong's compositions? Listen to "Regretfully Yours" toward the end of the evening. Wow: think Beatles.

Jones (who has written for television's "Boardwalk Empire," "Weeds" and "Friday Night Lights") does a nifty job of drawing from the Shakespeare, and Gay's dexterity as she brings together (while the pacing is swift) many varied production values and elements is masterful.

Serralles and Venturi (gifted performers playing, respectively, Bea and Higgy) are perfectly cast. They must run through a wide array of emotions. David Wilson Barnes' Ben is suitably irritable, smart and talented: once again—John Lennon. Keira Naughton, as sometimes supportive, sometimes seemingly bizarre model Ulcie, is excellent. Adam O'Byrne is terrific as Don Best. It certainly seems that all members of this cast are having quite a blast with this production. Joie de vivre!

These Paper Bullets! would not have scored success of this kind without phenomenal cooperation amongst those responsible for its actualization: Rolin Jones, Jackson Gay and Billie Joe Armstrong.

These Paper Bullets! continues at the University Theatre in New Haven, as part of the current Yale Repertory season, through April 5th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.


Photo: Joan Marcus

- Fred Sokol


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