The best of the 60’s in ‘These Paper Bullets’
The Geffen Playhouse took audiences back to the sixties in Rolin Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong’s “ A Modish Rip Off William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” ”These Paper Bullets,” was a romp back in time with music in the style of the famed Beatles. Playwright, Rolin Jones is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and an Emmy Award nominated writer (“Friday Night Lights” and “Boardwalk Empire.”) The play, which was billed as a play with music, took place in the sixties with colorful mini-skirts, go-go boots, teased hair, day glo-colors, Beatles “bowl haircuts,” drugs, and fantastic music by rocker, Armstrong, Grammy Award winner and frontman for Green Day. Jones based his story loosely on the Shakespearean play……..very loosely, indeed. I’m not sure Shakespeare would have recognized his plot. The end result was a raucous, rowdy, bawdy and irreverent mix-up so well directed by Jackson Gay, who collaborated on the production at its inception. Gay certainly kept the play moving at a very fast pace which gave it a farce-like quality. One thing for sure was that this play was great fun. It gave this audience a nostalgic look into the past and left me wanting more. The Beatles style music paid homage to one of the greatest musical groups, and yet, Billie Joe’s music stood entirely on its own.
The Geffen transformed their stage into a delightful arena with set design by Michael Yeargen in which this fine madness exploded. This was one of the largest ensemble groups with fifteen cast members who graced the Geffen mainstage as we were bouncing in our seats to Billie Joe’s music . The colorful costumes and wigs by Jessica Ford added so much to the reality. The videos also established and served to celebrate the period. I loved the nostalgic footage and seeing the crowds grow wild over the Beatles.
As the play opened, three bungling and conservative Scotland Yard detective are investigating “generational degeneration” of the crazed sixties generation. The four Quartos, as the popular trend setters, are pegged as responsible for much of this degeneration. Ben, Claude, Pedro, and Balth are recording an album at the Messina Hotel, owned by Leo, (Nick Ulett) whose daughter Higgy (Ariana Venturi) is the high fashion model, who is quite high on “ludes” for much of the play. Her cousin (Nicole Parker) is the sensational fashion designer, ala Mary Quandt, who is angry over her failed affair with lead Quartos singer, Ben(Justin Kick). Neither wants to admit they love one another but, their friends plot to trick them. Then, we have Claude (Damon Dranno) who loves Higgy. Don Best, (Adam O’ Bryne) the drummer replaced by Pedro and now the “handler” and gopher man who plots against the Quartos for revenge. That is the making of the plotline of the play.
The four lads, the Quartos, who resembled the famed Beatles, are the protagonists and drummer Don Best, who was replaced by Ringo in real life, was the villain, who plotted with photo journalist Boris to ruin the romance and wedding between Claude and Higgy.
Like in Shakespeare’s writing, we got plots, sub plots, thwarted love, mistaken identities, and people at cross purposes with hidden agendas, and lots of confusion. Rip roaring farcical fun. Love did not come easy for either couple. But, it all was a fun excuse to celebrate the sixties. The Quartos strutted their stuff, broke into group songs as the stage turned round. There were references to George Harrison’s mecca to India with a song that captured the flavor of Indian spices. Claude as choir boy, Paul was ”madly , deeply” in love with Higgy, and he sang a romantic ballad professing his love for her that Beatle Paul would have done. I was hearing “Love Me Do,” or “Michelle My Belle.” My mind was going back in time to the best of the Beatles. Who could forget “Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” Claude proposed, but, with lothario, Best’s interference the wedding was called off. The photo shopped photos of Higgy in a compromising situation clinched that. Even Leo, so well played by Ulett believed his daughter did the unspeakable deed. Ulett, as a dashing Leo, added a level of reality to the madcap characters of the play. His character served to ground some of the modishness.
The three boys schemed to help Ben as did the girls to help Bea. There were fun references to hidden mics in lampshades and people spying on each other. I was more reminded of the antics of the Marx Brothers than Shakespeare. And, Queen Elizabeth reigned supreme in this production. Her entrance was a high point. Imagine how you would feel if the Queen Mum were sitting next to you?
Though “These Paper Bullets”, was loosely based on “Much Ado About Nothing” for the story line, with music reminiscent of the Beatles, it was totally an original mix of colorful, zany madness and as such it stood alone. Jones and Armstrong did not really “rip-off” or copy anything. Their fine combining and juxtaposing of Shakespeare with the Beatles type music gave us a delightfully new and unique play. The standing ovation said it all. The audience loved “These Paper Bullets.” Look for it to go to New York’s Atlantic Theater next. It was a co-production with the Atlantic Theater.
“These Paper Bullets” opened the Geffen’s season and ran through October 18th. Call 310-208-5454 for tickets and show times for the next plays. “Guards at the Taj” is playing at the Audrey Skirball Theater through November 15th and “Outside Mullingar” opens in the Gil Cates Theater November 10th through December 20th. Parking is available at Trader Joes on the second level for $4.00. Stop at the concierge desk for a validation card or park under the Bank of America next door for $7.00.