“Bullet for Adolf,” a make-it-up-as-you-go-along comedy by first-time scribes Woody Harrelson (yes, that Woody Harrelson) and Frankie Hyman, is a hot mess. No plot, no structure, not even a consistent comic style — just the erratic comings and goings of wise-cracking roommates and the chatty girls they hook up with over a long, hot summer in Houston in 1983. But darned if this baggy-pants farce doesn’t grow on you, due in part to the outrageous nature of the sophomoric jokes and their enthusiastic delivery by a game cast.
This is the kind of play that people fantasize about writing when they think back on some long-ago summer they spent backpacking across Europe, or laying pipeline in Alaska, or maybe just waiting tables in the Poconos. The kind of play that immortalizes the instant friendships that would last forever and the summer romances that would never fade. The kind of play, in other words, that makes a scribe feel forever young.
The time that Harrison and Hyman recall here is the summer of 1983 when they met while working a construction job in Houston. (“The hottest, most humid armpit of a city on the planet,” according to scribes.) Great video montages (by Imaginary Media) and excellent soundscape (by Brett Jarvis) capture the spirit of the era with news clips, MTV videos, and snippets of movies and TV shows that mash up images of Ronald Reagan, Sally Ride, and Mr. T. with definitive moments from “Flashdance” and “Rocky III.” That blast of visceral sense memories works to set the scene, and more efficiently than the bland settings and non-specific costumes.
Scribe Hyman’s idealized stand-in is a smooth-talking guy named Frankie who migrated south from Harlem with a shady background you’d never guess from the attractive and extremely articulate charmer who emerges from Tyler Jacob Rollinson’s suave perf.
Co-scribe Harrelson’s less romanticized alter ego is a rootless slacker named Zach whose disarming drawl takes the sting out of some of his racier wisecracks. (Sample: “Sorry I’m late,” Zach apologizes to his co-workers on the construction site. “I was masturbating to National Geographic and that always takes a little longer.”)
Zach’s zingers sound even funnier in Brandon Coffey’s laconic delivery. And Rollinson’s buttery line readings make Frankie perfectly believable as the house poet. But nothing in the plot establishes — or dramatically threatens — their tight friendship or why it should matter to us.
The other characters in the play are even more loosely connected, which leaves the actors (under Harrelson’s permissive direction) more or less free to invent them. There’s enough professionalism within the cast to cover some brashly comic performances from, among others, David Coomber (as an effete roommate with a mother fixation) and Marsha Stephanie Blake (as a bold-as-brass visitor to the guys’ man-cave).
But the lack of a cohesive performance style encourages the thesps to apply their individual comedy techniques to their characters. And a poor excuse for a plot, positing the improbable theft of a pistol that supposedly belonged to Hitler, gives them nothing to play off. Although this lack of cohesion results in something of a free-for-all, by the end of the show that anything-goes goofiness has actually become great fun.