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Bullet for Adolf (2012)

Image credit: Carol Rosegg

BULLET FOR ADOLF Woody Harrelson's off-Broadway play is filled with go-for-broke comedy that works far more often than it doesn't

EW's GRADE
B+

Details Opening Date: Aug 08, 2012; Lead Performances: Brandon Coffey, David Coomber and Tyler Jacob Rollinson; Writer: Woody Harrelson; Director: Woody Harrelson; Genre: Comedy

Perhaps appropriately, Woody Harrelson's Off Broadway play Bullet for Adolf — which he directed and co-wrote with longtime friend Frankie Hyman — has quite a bit in common with a pot-addled jaw session: You'll laugh way more than you were expecting, everything meanders rather pleasantly, but by the end you won't really remember much of it at all.

That's because Bullet for Adolf only uses its plot as an excuse to hang out with an oddball cast of characters whose charisma and colloquial wit are far more engaging than anything they actually do. The show is set in 1980s Houston, where heat and racial tension intermingle casually — like the Bed-Stuy of Do the Right Thing if everyone just took a nice deep breath (or toke) — and centers on three guys. Zach (Brandon Coffey) is a sarcastic do-nothing whose real-life inspiration is immediately clear once Harrelson's molasses-thick drawl starts dripping out of his mouth. His black co-worker Frankie (Tyler Jacob Rollinson) moves in with Zach after getting kicked out of his apartment. And Clint (David Coomber) is a repressed, pearl-clutching Hoosier who boasts a bevy of stereotypical gay signifiers despite being a heterosexual horndog.

Eventually, a plot starts to coalesce involving the trio's German employer (Nick Wyman), a birthday party for his daughter (Shannon Garland), and an antique Luger pistol that supposedly was intended to kill Hitler had it not accidentally jammed. When the pistol is stolen, everyone is held under suspicion and the play's action ostensibly gets moving. But really, everyone just hangs out until they eventually bump into a resolution.

This would be a major fault if at any time the play aspired to say something about the human condition beyond ''We're all weird in our own wonderful way, and that's hilarious.'' And, to be honest, it is hilarious. Bullet for Adolf is filled with go-for-broke comedy that works far more often than it doesn't. Harrelson and Hyman have peppered the dialogue with funny one-liners and retorts that can turn a typically staid theater crowd into a bunch of spectators cheering on a game of the dozens. It's a messy kind of funny, the kind that isn't afraid to offend and isn't ashamed to be dumb, and it always aims for the belly laugh over the polite chuckle. There's something almost Marxian (Groucho, not Karl) going on. And although occasionally the whole ride threatens to jump the tracks, most of the time it manages to be hysterical without getting too, well, hysterical.

Other desultory story lines involve two female friends (Shamika Cotton and Marsha Stephanie Blake) who get pulled into the orbit of this makeshift family, along with a crazed but endearing half-Italian, half-Czech cokehead with racial identity issues. Played with paranoid hotheadedness by Lee Osorio, he calls himself Dago-Czech but considers himself 100 percent black. These supporting players also get some choice lines. In the end, though, it's Coomber's perfectly ridiculous performance as Clint that reaps the most laughs. Once in a while, the play stumbles upon some larger themes — most notably in a speech from Frankie about watching Sammy Davis Jr. singing ''I've Gotta Be Me'' to an antagonistic crowd at the Apollo — but those are quickly discarded in favor of whatever might be funny at that given moment. It's a strategy that's guaranteed to leave you with a smile, if not with much of an impression. B+

(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)

Originally posted Aug 08, 2012