Woody & Frankie’s Bullet for Adolf

There came a moment when I discovered just how sincere and authentic Woody Harrelson & Frankie Hyman are about their new play Bullet for Adolf.

bullet for adoft

Tonight was the first preview in Toronto at Hart House Theatre, and afterwards they held a talkback session with the actors and audience.  I asked a question, and in the process may have offended Frankie, although I didn’t see Woody’s response.

Woody & Frankie

Woody Harrelson & Frankie Hyman

I guess it sounds weird to call them by their first names.  Woody? You probably know him from his film & TV work.  I think I had one of my biggest life lessons, courtesy Woody Harrelson.  When I used to watch Cheers, I didn’t really differentiate between “Woody” the actor and “Woody” the role portrayed on Cheers.  In my defense I point to the names being the same, and the uncanny goofiness Woody brought to Woody.

Let’s just say I underestimated the man: profoundly.  Watching Natural Born Killers was the real eye opener, a role for which I think he should have won the oscar.

But excuse me, I digress.  I was saying that my question may have offended Frankie.

My question was meant in all innocence.  I first observed how authentic the writing seemed to my ear.  I was nervous so I didn’t really say what I meant to say, about how the black people sounded authentically black, and vice versa.  The question may have seemed racist, as I more or less asked who wrote what, and whether they achieved that authenticity by ensuring that the white guy wrote the white guy lines, and vice versa.

I saw Frankie wince, possibly embarrassed, before he more or less confirmed what I’d asserted, possibly feeling my question was a faux pas.  I felt bad that I had called attention to the divisions that exist in society when, in the course of the play, the writers had done such a marvellous job of erasing those divisions.

In the pre-show publicity, Harrelson made a big deal about choosing Toronto as the site for this premiere.  I wondered about that.  Is it because we’re multi-cultural, and likely to be very comfortable with the sensitivities in the script? Possibly.

But then again the talk back was like a love-in.  It had been a very successful preview, two and a quarter hours of steady laughs from an audience delighted by what they’d seen and heard.  Torontonians love to be flattered, love to be told how cosmopolitan we are; so perhaps it was a done deal that the show would go over well.  But by the same token, we may be easy but we’re not cheap (or the theatre-going equivalent).  The laughs were genuine.

I don’t want to give anything away –as a devout believer in the spoiler-free review—but let me just say that the title contains a kernel of poetic truth that elevates the material beyond mere laughs.  The comedy is at times very edgy, challenging the audience’s willingness to laugh.  I found that aspect the most exciting, that this genuinely felt like a work of art rather than a commercial vehicle, even if there’s the possibility of a big-time payoff at the box office.

Bullet for Adolf is set in the early 1980s.  The production magically teleports into that time through a regular use of video, by Christian Peterson & Jeremy Hutton.  Between scenes we’d watch combinations of images & music taking us back to the big hair, the moves & music of the time.  Occasionally, just to see if we were paying attention, some of the characters from the play would turn up in those little vignettes. But this is a very self-conscious bit of time-travel from Woody & Frankie, in a play that at times resembles a flashback.

When I put this in context with the last two plays I saw –by a pair of Brits named Martin Crimp & David Greig—I can’t miss the difference.  Crimp & Greig are doing what modern theatre does well: express alienation and pain for the usual theatre-goer.  I was ready for a play that leaves you feeling good afterwards, and Harrelson/Hyman delivered.   Whereas I can’t imagine addressing either of the famous playwrights by their first names, it goes without saying that Bullet for Adolf is unpretentious, a play bordering on guileless in its eagerness to have fun.

But by the same token, the play does have an edge.  There’s a great deal of abrasion in some of the exchanges, a fair amount of conflict, and suspense too.  I quibble with the play’s subtitle (“almost a comedy”), because to my eye/ear it’s very much a comedy.

The preview went very smoothly with no muffed lines that I could recognize and some tightly choregraphed fights & dance, the physicality coming as a very welcome release.

There were no weak links among the performers.  Brandon Coffey’s Zach & Ronnie Rowe’s Frankie were always persuasive, particularly in their first bristling encounters in their workplace;  their mastery of physical labour—shovelling and climbing scaffolds—made the early scenes at work very believable.  Meghan Swaby as Shareeta was a force to be reckoned with, and never less than fascinating.

Bullet for Adolf runs until May 7th at Hart House Theatre in Toronto.

This entry was posted in Dance, theatre & musicals, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Woody & Frankie’s Bullet for Adolf

  1. Robert Wills says:

    Natural Born Killers is absolutely hands down the worst movie I ever saw.

    • barczablog says:

      I can’t argue, you know what’s good and bad among the films you saw.

      Even among films by Oliver Stone it’s far better than, for example, Alexander or Any Given Sunday (two sprawling and largely incoherent films), and has way more logic to its writing than JFK. I suppose it depends upon what you consider a good or bad movie. I haven’t seen the film in awhile, so i don’t remember it that well, but as i recall i brought it up in context with Harrelson’s work as an actor; at the time I found Harrelson showed us a whole new set of acting chops, changing my understanding of what kind of roles he could undertake.

      • Joan of Arc says:

        The ‘piece de resistance’ in recent film performances is Woody’s Charlie Frost in ‘2012’. If you know anything about Woody’s deep commitment to social justice and environmental advocacy, you will die laughing at this veiled finger pointing to the ruling classes of the world.

        A notably ‘Woody’ moment takes place during the scene when cataclysm is imminent, and he delivers an amazing soliloquy on the edge of an abyss, only moments before…well, I don’t want to be a spoiler here.

        Woody Harrelson gets it.

  2. Joan of Arc says:

    “Bullet for Adolf’ is fabulous. I saw it a week into the run, so the performance was sterling. It took risks and they were all the right thing to do.

    I enjoyed reading your review (okay, blog) . I agree with so many of your observations, especially your comments about the production being unprententious and guileless. A very personal project for Woody and Frankie – aren’t we lucky to have been part of it!

    • barczablog says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and yes, all in all I feel lucky to have had a glimpse. I wonder whether we’ll see Bullet4Adolf again either onstage or possibly filmed.

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