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'Bonnie & Clyde' blazes away on stage

“Bonnie and Clyde, a New Musical,” playing at the Collaborative Theatre in Medford, is a bizarrely erotic romance between naïve Bonnie Parker and bad boy Clyde Barrow. Theirs is a match made in hell and robbery and murder seal their fate. But Bonnie and Clyde are heroic figures, too, defying grinding poverty and the misery of the Great Depression as they rampage through Texas and the Midwest.

In the opening scene, Bonnie and Clyde, played by Grace Peets and Eoghan McDowell, are gunned down in their sedan before the scene shifts 15 years back in time, when we meet them as children. Eliza Connolly is charming in the role of young Bonnie and Mason Hill as a wild, unkempt child Clyde, already brandishing a toy rifle. Growing older, Bonnie sees herself as Clara Bow, and Madison Garren plays that unformed, hopeful and dreamy ingénue so well. Clyde, though, grows ever more brash and confident in his criminal acts.

Bonnie could have been a star, or loved by a good man, but instead, she’s got a gun. And Clyde? There never was any hope for this boy. He was doomed by all who knew him and Bonnie’s along for the ride until death do they part. Peets is classically beautiful in her role as Bonnie Parker, with perfect posture and movie star moves. Her big eyes are wide open, excited by danger, consumed with lust and dazzled by celebrity. Eoghan McDowell is terrific in the role of Clyde Barrow, progressively more manic and possessed with the thrill of perverse success as the hunt narrows. They form the nucleus of the Barrow Gang that terrorizes the land.

“Bonnie and Clyde” has any number of remarkable and memorable scenes and characters — Sabrina Hebert plays Blanche, Clyde’s sister in law, a Christian woman who tries and fails to keep her husband in check. Hebert’s voice is superb and her acting is true throughout, sparkling in the beauty shop scene and tragic at the end. Peter Wickliffe as Deputy Ted Hinton is marvelously sensitive and powerful in song — his sweet love of Bonnie will go nowhere, and he is fated to destroy the one he loves.

David King-Gabriel was a clear standout as Preacher. The baptismal scene was just great and the church service even better. King-Gabriel has that call and response thing down pat, hollerin’ out, "Praise the Lord!" and raisin’ his big hands to heaven, let us all join in. The raising of the hands in Preacher’s scenes is an ironic reflection of the raising of the hands during the Barrow Gang’s robberies, hands raised to heaven in supplication.

Rebecca K. Campbell directed and choreographed “Bonnie and Clyde,” taking advantage of Collaborative Theatre Project’s flexible space and executing her own personal vision for a unique theater experience.

“I incorporated a lot of historical pictures because I’m a history teacher,” Campbell says. “There’s such a wealth of visual history with Bonnie and Clyde and I wanted to use more of that than what is in the script.”

Mike Kunkel, a Southern Oregon University student studying lighting, used the high walls to great advantage in the image projections, setting the scenes and moving the narrative along. Kelsey Garrett’s creative use of wooden pallets built a taller stage in that tight space and also reinforced the desolation and despair of the Great Depression. Mahri Gwynn Gray’s costumes were a slice of fashion history as well.

It’s hot outside but cool in the Collaborative Theatre Project’s performance space. If you want a heated, gritty summertime crime and love story, “Bonnie and Clyde” is just the show for you.

Collaborative Theatre Project’s production of “Bonnie & Clyde” is playing at 500 Medford Center, across from Tinseltown and Cold Stone Creamery. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 20. The play is suitable for all ages and runs about 120 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and students, $18 for ages 17 and younger, and can be purchased at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055 or at the box office.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland, Oregon and can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Eoghan McDowell and Grace Peets play Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in Collaborative Theatre Project's production of 'Bonnie and Clyde.' [Photo courtesy of CTP]