Rewriting Shakespeare is an act of courage and the results are seldom as good as the original, so Rolin Jones' rewriting of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, one of the Bard's best comedies, is an act of chutzpah. It's also a near complete success. The play now takes place in London in the age of the Beatles and Mary Quant. Bea (Shakespeare's Beatrice) is a Quant-like fashion designer and Ben (Benedick) is an aging member of a Beatles-like rock group, which also includes young Claude (Claudio). All this sounds rather far-fetched but it works. The greatest lines are still there as well as some clever new ones. Jones's play is raunchier than Shakespeare's but always enjoyable. Since Ben and Claude are in a rock group, The Quartos, contemporary rocker Billie Joe Armstrong has written a group of terrific homages to the Beatles performed by the actors who play The Quartos.
On the whole, Jackson Gay's direction is deft, though there's a bit too much shouting and forced slapstick in the updated Dogberry scenes. Jessica Ford's costumes were delightful and Michael Yeargan's simple, revolving sets were effective, particularly with Nicholas Hussong's great projections.
The cast couldn't be better. The always excellent Justin Kirk is a funny, slouching, half-stoned Ben, perfectly matched by Nicole Parker's feisty Bea. Brian Fenkart is an excellent singer and sweet as the not-too-articulate Claude. The rest of the ensemble (many actors playing multiple roles) couldn't be better.
THOSE PAPER BULLETS is a total delight. My one slight cavil is that the show might have been even better if the dialogue had been miked. It is always a bit difficult to switch from hearing loudly amplified music to non-amplified language. The actors tended to shout to compensate. Many moments would have been better if they didn't work so hard. Amplification and more relaxed direction might help that.
Nonetheless, catch this one if you can.