Review by Sarah Lucie
We all know that Woody Harrelson is funny, so it’s no surprise that his new play, co-written with long-time friend Frankie Hyman, is packed with side-splitting one-liners. Sure, the play may not impart wisdom on the audience or incite profound conversation, but it sure is entertaining.
The mostly autobiographical comedy comes to life in the summer of 1983, when Frankie (Tyler Jacob Rollison) and Zach (Brandon Coffey as the Woody Harrelson character) meet while working at a construction site in Houston, Texas. They form a fast friendship and have soon created a highly unlikely group of friends. The plot ambles along until the group finds themselves at the eighteenth birthday party for Batina (Shannon Garland), the German foreman Jurgen’s (Nick Wyman) daughter, where his Luger pistol supposedly once owned by Hitler goes missing. The plot is then vaguely shaped as a whodunit mystery, although the stakes are low and the focus is still on comedy rather than suspense. The play’s real point of interest is ultimately the coming-of-age story of a group of friends; it just takes a few detours to get there.
While the play’s dialogue is captivating, aided by sharp actors and pinpoint direction by Mr. Harrelson, the plot and characters leave much to be desired. All the characters are reported to be based on real people, but the nuances and back-stories necessary to make these characters lifelike are missing, resulting in one-dimensional caricatures. And the plot leaves many questions unanswered: What brought Frankie from Harlem to Houston? What’s the deal with Dago-Czech (played with committed vigor by Lee Osorio), the suit-wearing construction worker who seems to wish he were black? Since when do near strangers break out into a drum circle at a girl’s birthday party while her dad is watching, at least without the help of any substances?
Yet, even with these structural issues, the production’s energy is infectious. The ’80s video clips during scene changes keep up the rapid-fire momentum and hint at the play’s underlying racial themes, in addition to providing some golden pop-culture references. (Was that a clip from Cheers I spotted?) And the comedy ranges from witty to bawdy to slapstick and back again, leaving every type of comedy lover satisfied. Yet, the production’s success ultimately comes down to the actors. Marsha Stephanie Blake stands out as Shareeta, best friend and partner in crime to Jackie (played by the elegant Shamika Cotton). Blake has the funniest lines to work with, but her exquisitely matter-of-fact delivery tears down the house. And David Coomber’s highly animated and slightly neurotic portrayal of Clint steals the show.
Bullet for Adolf provides for a simply entertaining trip to the theater. It’s no masterpiece, but as a show written by friends and about friends, its sense of fun is contagious.
“Bullet for Adolf” continues through September 16 at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street; (646) 871-1730, newworldstages.com