Theatrical Review: These Paper Bullets

Last weekend, I took my wife Lisa and fifteen year-old son Jack, down to the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, California, to catch These Paper Bullets, the self-proclaimed “Modish ripoff of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.” Much Ado is a blast, Lisa’s favorite Shakespeare comedy, AND a play I’d seen recently (up in Ashland earlier this month). How would this Modish Ripoff stand up?

Quite well, actually.

The story in a nutshell: It’s 1964, and a Beatles-type band, the Quartos, has just returned from their successful American tour. In a prologue, we’re in the bowels of New Scotland Yard as middle-aged law enforcement try to understand this fad and the four lads that lead such a frenzy, and we get a great “educational film” for exposition. In it, we see the rise of the Quartos, and and just how far the parallels to the Beatles go: way beyond typefaces, album covers, and sound (more on that in a moment). It seems the Quartos today are not the original Quartos. When they began, the drummer was a man named Don Best, but he wasn’t that great a drummer, so the rest of the band (Ben, Claude and Balth) replaced him with his brother, Pedro… any similarity to replacing Pete Best with (not brother) Ringo Starr in the Beatles is purely on-point, and the tie-in between Pedro and Don Pedro of Aragon, and his bastard half-brother Don John is well-suited for the sibling rivalry turned war in Much Ado. Well, the boys return to London, staying at the Hotel Messina, Claude falls for the hotelier’s daughter Higgy (cough, Twiggy, cough), and Ben and Bea resume their merry war.

Playwright Rolin Jones works in as much of the original Shakespearean language as will fit the scene and situation (and be understood by a modern audience). He’s not afraid of throwing in the occasional extra quote as well (a stoned–and there are a LOT of drugs and drinking in the play–Higgy saying, “Rosemary is for remembrance” and Scotland Yard agent crying out, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” as great laugh lines). The Quartos have many live songs in the play, all written with spot-on Beatles trademarks by Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. The music is a great deal of fun.

Some critics have downgraded the play for what they have considered to be too-familiar music. Others have blasted the play for a certain knockabout quality, neither flesh of Shakespeare nor fish of a new play. In my opinion, both miss the point. And that point is to have a good time. Period.

Is it a great play? By no means. Will the music stand the test of time. Nope. Will the actors (here including Weeds’ Justin Kirk as Ben[edick]) win any awards? Probably not. But for the two and a half hours we were in the theater, we had a great time. Lisa laughed so hard she cried at one point. I was grinning throughout. And even Jack, who’s not that familiar with the source (and a teen), had fun…and he wanted to know more about the original in our post-show dinner conversation.

Yes, I know. Theater tickets are expensive, and the growing sense is that any show had better be worth that cost, had better be great. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, how much is two hours of laughter and silliness worth in your life…in this case, I think it’s worth the price of admission.

The production just ended its Los Angeles run. Don’t know if it’s touring, but if you get a chance, check it out. It’s a trifle, but a fun one.

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