Bank-robbing couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have been objects of popular fascination since their heyday of the 1930s—a sexy young couple whose crime sprees were blown up into folklore even while they were active, and were then gunned down in their prime by law-enforcement officers in the course of, you know, enforcing the law. From the classic 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde to the Serge Gainsbourg/Brigitte Bardot pop song of the same name released that same year, they’ve been elevated to the level of mythic figures, like their fellow American outlaws Jesse James and John Dillinger.
As an indication of the reach of the robbers’ allure, the play that Berkeley’s Shotgun Players is now staging about the pair, succinctly named Bonnie & Clyde, was written in 2010 by British playwright Adam Peck and debuted at Fairground Theatre in Bristol. The play depicts Bonnie and Clyde hiding out in a barn, wounded, well into their life of crime and presumably not long before they’re taken out of it. The show opens with a prayer that might as well be a thesis statement. “We humbly acknowledge that there is a time to live and a time to die,” the two say, standing still and staring straight ahead over the audience. “We have chosen to live lives less ordinary.”
Director Mark Jackson gives the play a compellingly theatrical and very physical staging, especially for a play that consists mainly of two people waiting around and struggling to pass the time: playing “would you rather” (crossed with hopscotch in a way that’s hard to make sense of) or arguing about exes and whether or not they’ll be buried together. They even play-act a wedding. Joe Estlack’s Clyde has the ornery intensity of someone who might be dangerous if he weren’t with someone he loved. Megan Trout is a tempestuous, playful, fame-obsessed Bonnie, and she dances marvelously well and curiously often for someone with a badly wounded leg.
Robert Broadfoot’s barn set leaves the roof and side walls open, with a frame but no slats, and the blond wood is pristine and looks brand new. Matt Stines’s sound design lays on the creepy atmosphere with revving motors and ominous choirs singing dirges, and Jon Tracy’s lights flash through the rear wall in dramatically unsettling ways.
Over and over again, the action between Bonnie and Clyde is interrupted for interludes in which Clyde prophecies in great detail about the day the couple dies, while Bonnie does a convulsive dance around as if buffeted around by unseen forces. Black-and-while images of an antique car and their bloody bodies are projected on the back wall. Although Estlack and Trout play these lyrical passages well, they’re more abstract and less engaging than the tense, dramatic dialogue that takes place in the here and now. They also lead into distracting mental tangents: Is this still Clyde who’s talking, or is he just slipping into the role of a narrator? Are these flash-forwards, or are they perhaps flashbacks? Is this barn a literal location at all, or are Bonnie and Clyde dead already in some kind of puragtory and just don’t know it? I was surprised to reread the press release that begins, “Over one feverish night in an unnamed southern town…” because I would have guessed from the lackadaisical pace that they were holed up in that barn for at least a week. They certainly don’t give the impression of having anywhere else they need to be. And with what’s waiting for them in the world outside, you can hardly blame them.
Show #93 of 2013, attended August 30.