By Tulis McCall
Oh those KIDS!!! What will they get up to next. Honestly. First its the long hair. Then it’s the short skirts. Then it’s the dancing – if you can call it that – the jumping and jiggling about. No respect for morals. No sense of responsibility. And all this in 1963, or thereabouts.
The Fab Four – if you are of a certain age this is an iconic phrase – in this case The Quartos are fab indeed. The visual similarity to the Beatles – pegged pants and floppy hair – is a visual treat. Listening to those four lads Ben (Justin Kirk), Claude (Bryan Fenkart), Balth (Lucas Papaelias) and Pedro (James Barry)do up a tune is a total pleasure. The music is kicker and these gents know their way around their instruments and vocals.
Then there is the rest of the play. Yes. Yes it is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Loosely. You can hear Shakespeare sprinkled like flakes of fish food over the dialogue. And you can even spot a plot point here and there. As to why this has become an actual production, the answer is, um, “Why not?”
Ben and Bea (Nicole Parker) stand in for Benedick and Beatrice as the two loves who are the last to know they are in love. They are smart and devilish and blind of course to their love. Claude and Higgy (Ariana Venturi) stand in for Claudio and Hero and have their own devilish time sorting out their love and getting to the altar. The evil Don John has been transformed into Don Best (Adam O’Byrne) who is the real life Peter Best, famous for being kicked out of the Beatles before they took off like a rocket. Ringo was his replacement.
There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, with the obligatory wedding to which we are welcomed as guests and expected to stand not only for the bride but for the Queen herself. Everything turns out grand in the end, of course, with a sort of Marx Brothers free flowing hilarity. The authors have tried to combine the iconic Beatles with Shakespeare, and while it is a noble effort, it never quite succeeds. One cannot look at these chaps without thinking of the Beatles. And a person has a hard time integrating them with Shakespeare because the Bard is never fully present.
The entire show requires much attention – was that a line from Shakespeare? Was it only written that way? Which Shakespeare character is this one supposed to be? Were they taking quaaludes back then? Why are they believing that photo is real and why can’t I see it? After awhile you realize this really IS Much Ado ABout Nothing and you give up trying, sit back and enjoy the performances.
Actors will go where there is work, because they are the servers. Like waiters, they bring the goods to you. They have no control over the goods, but they do have control over the delivery. This cast does not disappoint. From the Fab Four Quartos to the many actors who play more than one role – they are each a jewel. And what is most amazing is that they never get lost in the story. The audience does, but the actors are relentless in their commitment to getting the job done.
So while this is not a production that satisfies, it is a pleasure to observe. Or something like that.
These Paper Bullets! – Based on “Much Ado About Nothing” by William Shakespeare; Written by Rolin Jones; Music and lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; directed by Jackson Gay
WITH: James Barry (Pedro), Stephen DeRosa (Leo Messina), Bryan Fenkart (Claude), Christopher Geary (Mr. Crumpet/Anton/Queen), Brad Heberlee (Mr. Urges/Reverend), Justin Kirk (Ben), Tony Manna (Mr. Cake), Andrew Musselman (Boris), Keira Naughton (Ulcie), Adam O’Byrne (Don Best), Lucas Papaelias (Balth), Nicole Parker (Bea), Greg Stuhr (Mr. Berry), Ariana Venturi (Higgy) and Liz Wisan (Paulina Noble/Frida).
Sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Jessica Ford; lighting by Paul Whitaker; incidental music and sound by Broken Chord; projections by Nicholas Hussong; orchestrations by Tom Kitt; music direction by Julie McBride; choreography by Kevin Williamson; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; fight director, Mike Rossmy; production stage manager, Bree Sherry; production manager, Michael Wade; associate artistic director, Annie MacRae; general manager, Pamela Adams. A Yale Repertory Theater production, presented by Atlantic Theater Company, Neil Pepe, artistic director; Jeffory Lawson, managing director; in association with the Geffen Playhouse. Through Jan. 10 at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, atlantictheater.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.