By: Paulanne Simmons
While, on Broadway, King Charles III parodies Shakespeare’s histories, off-Broadway, at the Atlantic Theater Company, These Paper Bullets! takes a shot at Shakespeare’s comedies. Rolin Jones has based this work loosely on Much Ado About Nothing, in which Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into falling in love, and Claudio leaves his beloved, Hero, at the altar because the evil Don John has hoodwinked him into believing she is unfaithful.
Beatrice, a niece of Leonato, is now Bea (Nicole Parker), a very mod fashion designer; and Benedick, a lord and soldier from Padua, is the band’s frontman, Ben (Justin Kirk). Claudio,a Florentin count, is now Claude (Bryan Fenkart), another member of the band, and Hero, Leonato’s daughter, is Higgy, (Ariana Venturi), a fashion model whose father Leo Messina (Stephen DeRosa) owns a hotel he has named after himself.
As for Don John, the bastard prince, he is now Don Best (Adam O’Byrne), the original drummer ousted by his upstart half brother Pedro (James Barry), who is Don Pedro, prince of Aragon, in the original.
The plot is actually somewhat more complicated, but let’s leave out some of the details so readers won’t be in as confused a state as many in the audience undoubtedly find themselves, despite director Jackson Gay’s best efforts. However, just when more than a few people are scratching their head, wondering who is who and what is what, the Quartos delivers one of Billie Joe Armstrong’s splendid imitations of the Beatles’ imitations of American rock ‘n roll, and all is well.
In the end, These Paper Bullets! is a lot more Monty Python than William Shakespeare. And when it’s not confusing, childish and needlessly gross, it can be a lot of fun. Jones’s ersatz Shakespearean language mixes nicely with a sprinkling of the real stuff. Michael Yeargan’s set includes a turntable that keeps the action moving at a dizzying speed. And the actors are nothing if not energetic. But after a while, as so often happens in this type of comedy, the humor wears thin and boredom sets in.
If only someone had pulled the trigger on this show an hour earlier!
These Paper Bullets! runs through January 10 at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20 Street.