The names Bonnie and Clyde, when uttered together, instantly conjure images of twenty-something Depression Era outlaws who became notorious for their string of robberies and murders and, ultimately, their bullet-riddled demise. Parker and Barrow’s lives have been the inspiration for storytellers throughout the years, most notably for Arthur Penn’s film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Recently the duo’s tale was told in Frank Wildhorn’s musical Bonnie & Clyde on Broadway and just last year A&E delivered a two-night miniseries about the pair. On Friday, July 11th, TheatreWorks opened Adam Peck’s play Bonnie & Clyde.
Under the detailed direction of Joe Russo, this two-person play strips away the infamy of the machine guns and fellow members of the Barrow Gang and leaves the audience with a glimpse into the quieter moments that led up to Bonnie and Clyde’s ambush in a Louisiana field under the fire of no less than 167 bullets.
Utilizing a carefully thought out slide show which includes period headlines and press photos, Mr. Russo does an excellent job informing the audience of the time period in which they are about to spend the next hour and fifteen minutes. The visual presentation concludes with grim photos of the titular characters, replete with gunshot wounds to the brain, followed by the sepia tones fading away to reveal a multi-level set with newsprint decoupage, courtesy of Glenn Couture. It is 1934, the country is in the throes of the Great Depression, prohibition was nearing its end, dust storms ravaged the country and entertainment was found in dance marathons and sideshows. We are now in an out-of-the-way barn where Bonnie and Clyde are nursing their gunshot wounds, warming beans over fire in a can and discussing family, dreams, deeds and their eminent capture.
Marilyn Hart delivers a consistent and complex Bonnie Parker. With great ease, she shifts from doe-eyed and innocent to gun wielding and combative. Generally speaking, there are many impressions of Parker. Some feel she was “along for the ride” while others believe her to have been a cold-hearted killer. Hart’s performance embodies these polarizing facets of Parker’s persona and, despite her character’s cold-blooded actions, makes you feel something for Bonnie. Not unlike the way you feel for a good friend who went home with the wrong guy after a too many drinks and a little flirting.
New to the boards, Adam Stordy’s performance as Clyde is solid and unexpectedly good-natured. He gives Barrow an affable quality, not typical of a figure that is commonly thought of as a hardened and bitter criminal. There are gentle moments with Ms. Hart and monologues depicting Barrow’s final moments when Stordy makes you see the human side of a man that is generally dismissed as a monster.
A play based on this couple’s final moments is an intriguing premise. An opportunity to be creative with Bonnie and Clyde’s intimate final moments, however, seems to be missed. Peck’s script often left me wanting something more. Rambling dialogue and factual snippets filled scenes that would have been more effective if there was more action and tension. Perhaps that was the intent of the playwright, to depict a world where “almost” and “what if” are the words that define every moment of every day. With this infamous duo, however, there was an expectation for something more compelling than the script delivered.
Despite a mediocre script, TheatreWorks’ Bonnie & Clyde delivers a captivating glimpse into a notorious couple’s final chapter. There is a simplicity that is offered with this depiction of Bonnie and Clyde that reaches beyond the headlines and gives us a view into their heads. With strong production value, meticulous direction and well-rounded performances, it is a view worth taking in.