At first blush, “Paper Bullets,” a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” set in the echo chamber of a powerhouse entertainment empire where young, would-be celebrity lovers are handled and branded by manager-producers, seems like an interesting idea.
“Adaptation,” in this case, doesn’t mean Shakespeare’s dialogue and scenes are intact or that the characters from his popular comedy are recognizable. Playwright John E. Allis has rebooted the troubled lovers from “Much Ado” into often-insufferable media stars steeped in vulgarities and strained self-justification.
But the point of the story is the way Mohawk-topped pop artist Benedik (Sam Duchin), a dodgy Beatrice (Megan Jackson), gullible Hero (Adria LaMorticella) and swaggering Claudio (Riley Donahue), all red-carpet darlings subject to paparazzi stakeouts, are struggling for personal authenticity and a real life amid image manipulation and creative control by showbiz titans.
That’s a provocative notion, playing with the issues of deception, identity, sabotage and suspicion between the sexes in “Much Ado.” Allis reconsiders and weaves those themes into a modern context, satirizing junk-culture preoccupation with celebrities and their relationships, sex tapes, well-marketed confessions and public redemptions.
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Allis also provides his version of Shakespeare’s two warring “Dons,” in this case siblings Pedro (Christopher Martinez) and Joanna (Danielle Daggerty). The latter is angry after being passed over to take the reins of her father’s media business, and is going to soul-sapping lengths to strike back.
There’s plenty of potential here, but the trouble with “Paper Bullets” is that it simply isn’t compelling. Performances are uneven and often wobbly, and the same is true for Allis’ dialogue, which is tailored sharply to some characters (here Dogberry eschews the original’s malapropisms but has a nice patter of his own), but bland for others.
The air goes out of key scenes (including one in which Pedro draws upon an ugly story about Jimi Hendrix) that lack punch and feel endless. The biggest problem is that “Paper Bullets,” while perhaps still relevant as satire, already feels dated. The blurring of the line between reality and fame in the Kardashian era has drawn plenty of acerbic comment. “Paper Bullets” adds nothing new.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org