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These Paper Bullets

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Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of enjoying this play?

At least subtitling this work “a modish ripoff” gives fair warning about playwright Rolin Jones’s script. It’s a rip-off, indeed, of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, in which the thirtysomething former flames Beatrice and Benedick forswear love, while the younger Hero and Claudio’s emotions catch fire before our eyes.

 

In Shakespeare’s original, a group of soldiers returns from war. Jones sets his play in London’s swinging ’60s, where a quartet of rock musicians, the Quartos, returns from its world tour, a different kind of invasion. These mop-tops are Claude, the cute one (Damon Daunno); Balth, the quiet one (Lucas Papaelias); Pedro, the perky drummer (James Barry); and of course Ben (Justin Kirk).

 

Bea (Nicole Parker) is a fashion designer magnate, very Mary Quant, whose clothes are on every body and whose face is on every building. Her favorite model, and of course cousin, is the Twiggy-like Higgy (Ariana Venturi). Higgy lives in the penthouse of her father, Leo’s (Nick Ullett), swanky hotel, the Messina. Like the band, Higgy has hangers-on, notably Ulcie (Keira Naughton) and Frida (Kate Blumberg), as much drunken revelers as any men in any Shakespeare play.

Bea and Ben continue their battle of the quips, while Higgy and Claude overcome lies and drugs-and-alcohol hazes to reach the altar. The play needs Shakespeare’s villain: Don Pedro’s evil brother Don John. Here, however, he’s the band’s clumsily fired original drummer, out for revenge and named, in one of the show’s best jokes that merge Shakespeare and the Beatles, Don Best (Adam O’Byrne).

The goings-on with the turned-on generation are spied on by Scotland Yard. Heading the case is the particularly inept Mr. Berry (Dogberry in Shakespeare), played by the particularly adept Greg Stuhr, whose onstage shenanigans are still inducing giggles in at least one audience member. Berry’s “watchmen” are Mr. Cake (Tony Manna) and Mr. Urges (Brad Heberlee, later doubling as the friar).

For those who know Shakespeare’s play, the distraction one must o’erleap is the compulsion to compare the dialogue here with that of the original. For those who don’t know the original, there might be the urge to wonder why mods speak in Shakespearean dialogue.

Jackson Gay’s direction provides its own interesting twist. She places the action on a turntable, which not only symbolizes the mega recording careers of the musicians but also allows swift scene changes and very filmic movement within scenes (immense praise to those who keep the turntable moving in the right direction at the right time). But stagehands can be seen onstage, moving furniture and wiping up savaged wedding cake. As if to acknowledge that these versions of Bunraku puppeteers are indeed there, they and the ushers flock to and on the stage during the final wedding scene.

The Quartos provide musical interludes. Billie Joe Armstrong, front man of the pop-punk band Green Day, has written short, sweet songs very much evoking those of the real fab four. Only in his last song, “Regretfully Yours,” do chords and rhythms hint at Green Day’s “American Idiot.”

Remarkably, the actors playing the Quartos play their instruments live onstage. While they don’t have quite the musicianship of three of their models—half the audience is surely better drummers than the iconic original was—their work satisfies the production’s musical needs. Any better, and the musicianship could be a distraction.

Briefly distracting, but happily so, are the gorgeous mod costumes, by Jessica Ford. They include brightly hued and frolickingly patterned mini-dresses for the women, accessorized by colored fishnets and go-go boots, and slim-line suits for the band.

But this highly skilled, highly schooled cast doesn’t need costuming to create a feel that is Shakespearean and swinging. Iambs come crisply from their mouths—witness the ample spit on each plosive. Emotions, at least for the characters with emotions, come ragingly from their souls. Pratfalls, commedia gags, and frug-like dance moves overflow their bodies.

The exception to the emotionally available acting may be the handsome but here bland Kirk, as Ben. Dry, droll, and introvertedly brilliant may be exciting qualities in a rock god the likes of John Lennon, but they don’t make for an interesting protagonist in a play.

With the inclusion of videotaping of the audience, rebroadcast on Jumbotrons, there’s a bit of fun at the expense of BBC reporters, particularly one (Blumberg again), the extent of whose hat collection matches that of Queen Elizabeth II—who also attends the wedding and even dances at it (Christopher Geary).

One last character and actor must be mentioned. Who the heck is Boris? He’s the Borachio character, played with endless hilarity by Rod McLachlan. Given a Russian name perhaps to add another layer to the rip-roaring interrogation scene at Scotland Yard, Boris is the mechanism by which Claude and Higgy are separated, then reconciled, though Higgy and Bea plan to remain staunch feminists. Post-1950s at last, they’re the strong women Shakespeare expected them to be.

These Paper Bullets! continues in Westwood at the Geffen Playhouse through Oct. 18. Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Ave. Evening performances are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays at 3pm and Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, call (310) 208-5454. For online ticketing and further information, www.geffenplayhouse.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.