By Dorianne Emmerton
I kind of love Woody Harrelson. Not only does he have a string of stellar performances in fabulous movies and a history of environmental and peace activism, but he also loves Toronto.
Bullet for Adolf is his second production in the city, and his first at Hart House Theatre, a venue he happened upon by accident and fell in love with. It is a semi-autobiographical tale of young people hanging out, falling in love and getting into trouble in 1983.
I expected there to be a fair bit of politics in this play, given that Harrelson is a well-known lefty and the title references fascism. But there isn’t really any high minded message in the show. The only political topic that really comes up is race relations. As Harrelson explains in his Director’s note, he “hadn’t hung much with black folks” before he met Frankie Hyman when they were both working on a construction site in Houston.
Frankie is a character in the show, played by Robbie Rowe, but there’s no Woody. The Harrelson analog is pretty obviously the character named Zach, played by Brandon Coffrey. Hyman claims in his note in the program that “the characters are real, the dynamics are also…” It’s pretty impressive that Hyman and Harrelson have stayed friends in the many years since and one can’t help but wonder if their other old friends from the 80s know they are being characterized on a Toronto stage.
The most memorable character is Dago-Czech, played by Billy Petrovski. He is the best portrayal of a “wigger” I’ve seen since Gary Oldman in True Romance and a catalyst for much of the race-related humour. Clint, played by David Coomber, also provides many laughs with his neurotic behaviour and semi-nude state throughout much of the show.
As is common with comedies penned by men, the female love interests don’t get to be as wildly funny as the male characters. Shareeta, played by Meghan Swaby, who becomes a bit of a lust interest for Zach but not really a love interest, definitely has the funniest lines of all the female characters. Batina, played by Vanessa Smythe and Jackie played by Tashieka McTaggart, have some moments of hilarity, such as when Batina forces some unconventional yoga moves on Jackie.
The title refers to an antique gun belonging to Batina’s father and the construction crew boss Jurgen, played by Thomas Gough. The gun is stolen during Batina’s birthday party and Jurgen is determined to get it back.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a theatre production that made me laugh so much. There is just so much humour, all the way from some reasonably highbrow stuff to slapstick – literally slapstick because there are at least three incidents of characters getting slapped.
Harrelson’s decision to cast non-Equity actors was controversial, but I think it’s kind of great that he gave these young unknowns an opportunity of a lifetime. They were all very strong, albeit with fairly one-dimensional characters. They obviously deserved this chance.
Seeing Bullet for Adolf won’t change your life. It won’t challenge you or make you think. But it will make you laugh until you’re gasping for breath, and that is a very fine thing indeed.
– Bullet for Adolf is playing at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until May 7
-Shows run Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm and Saturday matinees at 2 pm
– Ticket prices are $32 for adults, $18 for students and seniors $18.
– Available at 416.978.8849 or www.bulletforadolf.com
Photo Credit: Sophie Giraud