Bullet for Adolf: Theater Review
Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman's shaggy dog farce was inspired by their youthful days working together at a Houston construction site.
Actor Woody Harrelson spent the summer of 1983 working at a construction site in Houston, where he became fast friends with an African-American co-worker, Frankie Hyman. Nearly three decades later both men have collaborated on Bullet for Adolf, a comic play recalling those days. Unfortunately, their nostalgia is not likely to be shared by audiences.
Just in case you’re unsure when the play is supposed to take place, Harrelson, who also directed, assaults you with visual and aural snippets from the period. Vintage pop songs that were on the charts that year are played at ear-splitting levels, and scene changes are accompanied by film montages featuring Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Sally Ride and other iconic figures of the time. Prominently featured in the set design are posters from two of that year’s hit films, Rocky III and Flashdance.
While it’s nice that the playwrights have fond memories of their youth, there’s more to crafting a farce than simply having eccentric characters yelling often profane, racially charged one-liners at each other. Oh, there’s a semblance of a plot, which involves the disappearance of a vintage German Luger that was supposedly used in an assassination attempt on Hitler. But other than providing the provocative title, the shaggy dog mystery adds little to the shambling proceedings.
The comedy mainly centers on the friendship between the affable, pot-smoking Zach (Brandon Coffey), a character clearly inspired by the young Woody, and Frankie (Tyler Jacob Rollinson), newly arrived from New York City. The pair immediately hit it off, with Zach inviting Frankie to move in with him and his roommate Clint (David Coomber). Much of the humor revolves around the fact that the fey Clint, who prances around in tighty-whities and listens to Judy Garland records, is in fact straight.
The two men’s romantic interests are Batina (Shannon Garland), the daughter of their stern German boss, Jurgen (Nick Wyman), and Jackie (Shamika Cotton), an advertising agency human resources manager who Frankie hits on during a failed job interview. Other characters figuring in the action are Dago-Czech (Lee Osorio), whose nickname reflects his ethnic heritage but not his would-be hilarious identification with black culture, and Shareeta (Marsha Stephanie Blake), Jackie’s sassy, tough-talking friend.
For a seemingly interminable, bloated 2-½ hours, this one-dimensional motley crew trades insults and often deliberately offensive gags that riff on, among other subjects, the Holocaust and pedophilia. Some of the rude one-liners are admittedly funny, and the mainly youthful cast delivers them with evident relish. But the relentless jokiness, as well as the utter absence of anything resembling a coherent plot, quickly proves wearisome.
There’s a lot of pot-smoking going on among the characters — another aspect reflecting one of Harrelson’s well-known interests -- but since the marijuana isn’t real the audience is unfortunately prevented from experiencing the sort of contact high that might have resulted in at least a few giggles.
Venue: New World Stages, New York (runs through Sept. 9)
Playwrights: Woody Harrelson, Frankie Hyman
Cast: Marsha Stephanie Blake, Brandon Coffey, David Coomber, Shamika Cotton, Shannon Garland, Lee Osorio, Tyler Jacob Rollinson, Nick Wyman
Director: Woody Harrelson
Set designer: Dane Laffrey
Costume designer: Kristy Leigh Hall
Lighting designer: Jen Schriever
Sound designer: Brett Jarvis
Projection designer: Imaginary Media
Presented by Children at Play