Review: NRACT’s Admirable Production of ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Immortalizes the Barrow Gang

By Lauren Van Hemert

.“You’ve read the story of Jesse James,

Of how he lived and died.

If you’re still in need

Of something to read,

Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.”

From The Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Bonnie Parker

The notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow worked the media in a way that not even Kellyanne Conway could rival. According to the FBI, on their 21-month rampage, between the summer of 1932 and the spring of 1934, “they left a trail of violence and terror in their wake as they crisscrossed the countryside in a series of stolen cars—robbing gas stations, village groceries, and the occasional bank and taking hostages when they got into a tight spot.”

Parker, an amateur poet and aspiring actress from Rowena, Texas, would send poems and photographs to the media to clear up in her words what were the “untruths to these write-ups” and paint the pair as misunderstood heroes.

Ultimately, Bonnie and Clyde would be immortalized in pop culture. Movies, television, and even a 2002 Jay Z and Beyonce song romanticized their history. Broadway even took a turn at telling their story. The Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde opened in 2011 and closed just after a few weeks.

Last weekend, the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT) production of Bonnie & Clyde opened. And while Ivan Menchell’s book has some problems, this production boasts some excellent creative elements and performances.

The standout in this production is 19-year-old Reanna Kicinski as Bonnie. She plays the sultry, ravishing redhead to a tee, similarly to how Megan Hilty channeled Marilyn Monroe in the now-defunct TV show Smash. Bonnie talks about wanting to be the ‘it’ girl, and Kiciniski, stopping just shy of overacting, proves time and time again she’s the ‘it’ girl here, performing stirring renditions of the seductive How ‘Bout a Dance and the hauntingly beautiful ballad Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad.

To Kicinski’s Bonnie is Ty Myatt’s dapper Clyde. Myatt is the perfect combination of the charming, charismatic romantic lead and quintessential bad boy. Yes, his steamy scenes with Kicinski are white-hot (surprisingly so). But his onstage chemistry with Daryl Ray Carliles as Clyde’s brother Marvin “Buck” Barrow is equally convincing and entertaining to watch. In fact, some of Myatt’s best moments are when he’s performing opposite Carliles, as in the showstopping number, When I Drive.

Upon entering the theater, it is evident that this is a collaboration of creatives, perhaps a testament to Jeri Lynn Schulke’s clear vision. Ian Robson’s ambitious and imposing set, made up of wooden planks and panels, is equally as striking as it is efficient. In fact, the creative use of sliding panel doors, which not only make good screens for the projections used during the production, cleverly transition from scene to scene in lieu of cumbersome set changes, which would have detracted from the show’s brisk flow.

Notable too are Sheila Cox’s period costumes, which are not only beautiful but historically accurate. Cox has clearly done her homework, studying every photograph of the notorious Barrow gang, from Bonnie’s famous chevron dress and beret to the pants and blouse Blanche Barrow wore the day she was apprehended. These characters are based on real people, so attention to detail through costumes lends an authenticity to the work.

Not to detract from the admirable work of the cast and creative team on this production, but here’s what’s most troubling about the show.

Romanticizing two outlaws who stockpiled an arsenal of guns and ammunition and murdered a dozen people, including up to nine police officers, is unsettling at best in 2019. There is no real moral story or moral message to this script and even the end feels somewhat anticlimactic. The audience is led to believe that ‘God’s arms are always open’ and the notorious pair will answer to Him. But that feels like a cop out.

Like many of the mass shooters and serial killers of late, these two were ‘made in America,’ as was (and is) their celebrity status. But they are no more heroes than 21-year old Zephen Xaver, who killed five people at a Florida bank earlier this year, is. And yet, we, as a society, are still fascinated by their tragic love story. Perhaps that is one of the takeaways from telling the story of Bonnie and Clyde now. Why?

Bonnie & Clyde runs through March 31st at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre. For more information visit: http://www.nract.org/shows.

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