Bullet for Adolf Review: Woody Harrelson, Playwright and Friend
The story behind “Bullet for Adolf,” an aimless comedy co-written and directed by Woody Harrelson that has now opened at New World Stages, surely helps explain why the actor decided in his 50s to become a playwright.
Harrelson co-wrote “Bullet for Adolf” with Frankie Hyman based on the summer construction job in Texas where they first met 30 years ago, and the oddball cast of characters with whom they worked and socialized. The two new friends reportedly lost touch not long afterward: Harrelson was cast in “Cheers” and became a star; Hyman has told reporters he moved back to New York and fell “deep into addiction.”
Here is where the story turns compelling: Harrelson reportedly hired a private detective to find his old friend, and then mentioned his search during an appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” which is how they got back in touch.
What an extraordinary story this is. It may say something about the power of celebrity; it surely says much about the strength of youthful bonding; it is also an intriguing glimpse into Harrelson’s sense of loyalty – his whole character, really.
It might make a terrific play. “Bullet for Adolf” is not that play, but the friendship of the two novice playwrights — one black, one white; one famous; one once lost — may be a main reason why the play they did write cannot be completely dismissed. “Bullet for Adolf” has the feel of a “Cheers”-like situation comedy created as a Web series – raunchier, less funny, more crude, tasteless, meandering with a literally Jerry-built plot, but with a camaraderie that the audience can enjoy sharing. Especially if they too are high.
Zach (Brandon Coffey) and Frankie (Tyler Jacob Rollinson) meet on a construction site in Houston in the summer of 1983. Zach is rooming with Clint (David Coomber), an actor who is constantly calling his mother and is saving up to move to New York. Frankie becomes the third roommate. To help his friend, Zach asks the construction site foreman, Jurgen (Nick Wyman), to hire him, even though there are no openings. Zach convinces Jurgen to fire a worker who calls himself Dago-Czech (Lee Osorio) although his name is actually Dwight.
Women soon enter the picture. Frankie goes for a job interview at an office, and tries to sweet-talk the interviewer Jackie (Shamika Cotton), a romance that has its ups and downs throughout the rest of the play; her best friend Shareeta (Marsha Stephanie Blake) disapproves
Batina (Shannon Garland) is furious at Zach; they had a dalliance the last time he was in Texas, nine months earlier, but he never contacted her while he was away at school. Eventually Batina becomes drawn to Clint.
Batina is also the daughter of Jurgen the construction foreman. It is during her 18th birthday party that the plot kicks in, the title reveals its meaning….and I mentally step away, as if at a dinner party where the guest to my rights turns out to be a member of the Aryan Nation. Jurgen owns a gun that Hitler owned but was used to try to kill him. How does Jurgen have the Luger? Jurgen’s father was on the firing squad that killed Hitler’s would-be assassin. And Jurgen, it turns out, is as admiring of Hitler as his father was: Hitler invented the highway, he tells the gathering, and the Volkswagen, and the idea of two-week paid annual vacation. Shortly after we learn this, Jurgen announces dramatically that somebody has stolen his Luger. End of Act 1.
The second act is surely meant as a whodunit, but to me was a whocares.
Director Harrelson floods the interludes between the scenes with video projections of familiar images from the 1980’s, such as the Reagans. It is not clear why this play needs to be so firmly established in that era. Something could have been made of race relations at the time, given that several characters are African-American, but other than a few one-liners, little is developed.
I know there are laugh lines in “Bullet for Adolf,” but I can’t remember a single one. What I do remember is the physical comedy, the tussling, which are well-conceived and well-executed by a first-rate cast. One need not share Woody Harrelson’s sense of humor as a playwright to appreciate his talent as an actor – and his talent for recognizing acting talent and creating ways to let it shine on stage. I hope he is working on another play.
Bullet for Adolf
At New World Stages
By Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman; directed by Mr. Harrelson; sets by Dane Laffrey; costumes by Kristy Leigh Hall; lighting by Jen Schriever; sound by Brett Jarvis; projections by Imaginary Media
Cast: Marsha Stephanie Blake (Shareeta), Brandon Coffey (Zach), David Coomber (Clint), Shamika Cotton (Jackie), Shannon Garland (Batina), Lee Osorio (Dago-Czech), Tyler Jacob Rollinson (Frankie) and Nick Wyman (Jurgen).
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
Bullet for Adolf is set to turn through Sept. 9
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