by Lynn on April 24, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Hart House Theatre. Co-written by Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman. Directed by Woody Harrelson. Designed by Melanie McNeil. Lighting by Gareth Crew. Video programmer, Jeremy Hutton. Video designer, Christian Peterson. Starring: Brandon Coffey, David Coomber, Thomas Gough, Tashieka McTaggart, Billy Petrovski, Ronnie Rowe, Vanessa Smythe, Meghan Swaby.

If the atrocious play Bullet for Adolf was written by an unknown playwright; directed by an unknown director; and starred an unknown cast, the chances are it would not have seen the light of day at Hart House Theatre. But we are so addicted to celebrity that since the atrocious play Bullet for Adolf is co-written and directed by Woody Harrelson, of Cheers and various minor movies fame, on that basis alone, the hype has been high, resulting in terrific business at Hart House Theatre. Harrelson’s celebrity doesn’t change the fact that Bullet for Adolf is atrociously written, directed and acted.

The impetus for the play was the summer of 1983 when Woody Harrelson was 18-years-old and working a construction job in Houston, Texas. There he met Frankie Hyman, also working on the same construction job. Harrelson never spent much time with blacks until meeting Frankie. He says in his program note that it was Frankie’s great ability as a storyteller and his philosophy of life that had a huge influence on him and changed his life. Both Harrelson and Hyman, his co-writer, are celebrating that summer’s experience in this play. Jeremy Hutton, as the video programmer and Christian Peterson, as the video designer, have created an impressive collage of the events and music of 1983, unfortunately, the play doesn’t reference any of them.

In the play, Zach (the Harrelson stand-in) has finagled his way into a construction job. He meets Frankie; they strike up a friendship; go drinking and at the end of the booze-up Frankie moves in with Zach and his over-excited friend, Clint. Zach and Frankie’s boss is Jurgen, a German whose prize possession is a gun with one bullet jammed in it, that was meant to assassinate Adolf Hitler (hence the title). Zach is sweet on Jurgen’s daughter, Batina. There are various friends and hangers on such as: Dago-Czech (who is half Italian and half Czech) who thinks he’s black and uses the “N-word” to describe himself; and two black women, Jackie, a business-woman and Shareeta, a psychologist. During the play the gun is stolen; the police are called and suspects arrested. There is much mayhem trying to find the thief and recover the gun, until finally the thief is revealed and the play, mercifully, comes to an end.

Both Harrelson and Hyman have done a masterful job in depicting that kind of 18 year old boy who thinks that fart jokes, racist jokes, sexist jokes, and every kind of inappropriate behaviour is side-splitting hilarious. According to Harrelson’s program note, he and Hyman started to work on this play a long time ago. Interestingly the play sounds and feels like it was dashed off after a beer-binge by a crotch-scratching teen with minimal writing ability and certainly no idea of plot or character development. I’m not sure that was the intention.

What is not apparent in the play is any indication that this summer was life-changing for anybody, and certainly not Harrelson. There is no revelation here. And neither writer has been able to write anything that would show Frankie’s great story-telling ability. Also absent is Frankie’s philosophy of life Harrelson found impressive at 18 and into later life. Neither writer appears to have a clue about how a play works; or how to set up a scene; or how to flesh out a character; or when to put in a joke where it serves a character instead of just throwing it in for no purpose at all.

Harrelson also directs this, unfortunately. His blocking is clumsy—characters move just for the sake of moving. His efforts to create visual jokes have little to do with a scene and much to do with a director who is showing off. Harrelson seems incapable of helping an actor with minimal talent—of which there are many in this cast. Something as fundamental as telling his cast to speak clearly and don’t mumble is not on Harrelson’s radar. To be fair most of these young people have just graduated acting school.

As Zach, Brandon Coffey is appropriately slumped-shouldered and all swagger. As Frankie, Ronnie Rowe has an interesting blend of confidence and attitude. I would like to see this actor in something else in the future. As Dago-Czech, I assume that Billy Petrovski is directed to be over-blown, bellow and to put the emphasis on the wrong syllables. However I don’t think that the result should be a performance that is totally unintelligible because you can’t understand a word the man is saying.

Enough. Yes folks, Bullet for Adolf is atrocious in every way.

Bullet for Adolf plays at Hart House Theatre until May 7, 2011

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gus April 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm

You’re obviously older and prude, I’ve seen the play twice and both times I personally witnessed the sold out crowd laugh hysterically, Dago-Czech’s character is played very well and I was able to understand everything he said. If you went to this play looking for Shakespearian type dialog you went to the wrong play


2 Lynn Slotkin April 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for this Gus. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Actually I didn’t go to see this show looking for Shakespearian type dialogue–I know where to go for that. I did go expecting language that was a bit better than this stuff; a story that made sense ; jokes that weren’t purile; and acting, that was better than this.

Oh well, that’s show biz. All the best.


3 yael April 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I saw the play yesterday evening and I agree with everything you say, Lynn. I didn’t care at all for any of the characters and the plot device of a stolen gun, which I assume was created to inspire a second act, fell flat. A few laughs but obviously this play needs alot of work.


4 Lynn Slotkin May 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Thanks for this Yael. I’m glad you found out first hand. I always want people to go to the theatre, but having to see sub-standard stuff like this, spoils it for the stuff that is wonderful, but doesn’t have the notoriety that this show got.



5 Maria May 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm


I’ve seen the show twice and it was funny both times but was completely lacking in substance. The acting may have been sub-par, but in all fairness, I think the actors did what they could with what they were given. I was a bit offended by all the swearing and I feel that a lot of the content was lost withing the boisterous banter. I wasn’t expecting a high calibar play, but I was hoping for some sort of realization or epiphany for at least one of the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed Zack and Frankie, and Shareeta, but the other characters were either too over the top or too lost in the background.

I would love to see these actors in something different. I think all of them have qualities that are not recognized here in the play.

I enjoyed the controversy around this play, even though it had its good and bad points, I would say it is valuable to watch it to be able to compare good and bad elements with other plays.

If you don’t feel like thinking, and enjoy a couple of good looking people cracking tasteless jokes at each other for 2 hours, you might actually enjoy it.



6 Edy July 28, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Just saw the play in NY. It didn’t improve with age.


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