a review of the Shotgun Players' "shotgun" production of Bonnie and Clyde, playing until September 29th

By Samantha Bean

Bang! Bang!
Bonnie and Clyde. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde. Serge Gainsborough and Bridget Bardot’s Bonnie and Clyde. Tabloid Newspapers’ Bonnie and Clyde. Depression Era Heroes Bonnie and Clyde. Badass Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. Crazy Lovers Bonnie and Clyde. When you take on Bonnie and Clyde you are taking on a long history of myth, both American and Romantic. The English playwright Adam Peck’s Bonnie and Clyde is an alluring reworking of what it actually might have felt like to be Bonnie and Clyde. It’s a startling idea and cuts through all the mythic dreck surrounding them to posit a different, more potent and striking myth of its own: that we remember Bonnie and Clyde not because they were larger than life, but because of their embrace of the mundane and the everyday.

Peck fast tracks the backstory of their love and subsequent crime spree in a pantomime sequence that director Mark Jackson stages with frenetic glee. It’s a little bit like watching an old newsreel, only more stylized and balletic. This opening sequence ends with Bonnie and Clyde shooting at the audience with pointed fingers. So when the next scene begins with them running into an empty barn with real guns, weary of being pursued, injured and mentally burned out, Peck immediately thrusts us into a world caught between fantasy and reality.
Let's commit a crime
Part of the play’s power is that they bicker like any couple, especially one that has to hide out in a barn from the law. They get on each other’s nerves, say the wrong things at the wrong times and have a real need for some personal space. Joe Estlack and Megan Trout’s chemistry is dynamic and impressive. They make you feel how crime has made their love purer and deeper. The games they play, sometimes with guns, give the play a moment-by-moment tension that tempers our knowledge of the inevitability of their deaths.

Peck uses this domestic realism as a way of slipping away from the myth and allowing us to see a different, more personal story. He imagines what it must have felt like to experience the world as Bonnie and Clyde did and shows how their love, jealousy and unrealized aspirations gave them an unnerving sense of what it means to live. For every mundane scene of how boring it is to escape from the law with the one you love, there are a series of haunting soliloquies that show the intellectual, emotional and moral depth of their thinking and how at odds with the world they really were, right down to the stream of bullets that killed them.
Don't kill me because I'm a myth
Estlack’s performance is bold and tormented and surprisingly sensitive. He makes a superb Clyde. In the final scene he excels at balancing the contradictory demands of the script as it swerves back and forth from the banal to the visionary. He’s compelling both as a common man in an uncommon situation and as a rebel folk hero who sees his death in mythic terms. Estlack handles these extremes as if they would logically spring from the same person, which is no easy task.

Trout’s Bonnie is also excellent and Jackson’s production makes great physical demands of her. She often has to flip back and forth between realistic acting and a kind of stylized dancing in the blink of an eye. It’s an effective way of relating the way dreams are an essential part of the Bonnie and Clyde myth. Peck emphasizes how they willed their way into national significance and Trout’s contorted dancing shows us both the beauty and danger of such desires.

I never thought of Bonnie and Clyde as being beautiful people. Crazy outlaws, yes. Crazier lovers, yes. What Peck and Mark Jackson’s daring and taut production does is give us something more: a sense of what it takes to become a myth and how exciting, difficult and horrible that journey is for real people.

Bonnie and Clyde runs through September 29th at the Ashby Stage: 1902 Ashby Ave. Berkeley. 510.841.6500, 80 minutes, $20-30,

Run, run, run away

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