I was maybe 13 and still under the spell of "The Untouchables" and other television takes on Depression Era gangsters the first time I saw the Bonnie and Clyde death car, a 1934 Ford Fordor Deluxe Sedan.
It may or may not have been the real deal because such was the demand for a peek at the place where Bonnie and Clyde met their bloody end near Bienville Parish, LA., that there were dozens of Fordors that had been touring the country since the shootout.
That made no difference because by that time, thanks to a hit movie in 1967, the legend of Bonnie and Clyde is American mythology that incorporates a Robin Hood robbing-the-rich theme along with the Old West tradition of settling matters with guns and flying lead and the ever-popular notion of living fast and dying young and beautiful.
Having seen the movie maybe 10 times and the death car about a half-dozen times, mostly in Nevada casinos, I was primed for the theatrical version of "Bonnie & Clyde," the poetic drama that offers a new take on the uniquely American legend as it unfolds on Berkeley's Ashby Stage through Sept. 29.
The play, directed by Mark Jackson, is set inside a raw wood barn, where the outlaw duo made its last hideout before the hundred-bullet ambush not only sealed their fate, but their place in popular history.
The stage personifications of Bonnie and Clyde, Joe Estlack and Megan Trout, are much more appealing than the real Bonnie and Clyde, who looked like back-country folk when they died in their 20s.
Adam Peck's play, which originated in England as a request by the artistic director of the Fairground Theatre in Bristol, is a multimedia mood piece that captures the story in video, sound, dance and dialogue that creates a poetic retelling of the myth.
Both Estlack and Trout do an excellent job of creating characters that are slightly ethereal and romantic while retaining their raw rural edges. Estlack's Clyde is a quick-to-anger, gun-toting fellow who seems both in awe of and love with Bonnie. Trout, meanwhile, makes Bonnie clearly the bright one of the duo, but also someone who sees Clyde as the knight on a white steed (or, in the case, a Ford Fordor) who took her away from her dreary life.
Bonnie also bears a tattoo inspired by her estranged husband, something that haunts Clyde in several ways -- it's one of several details that serve to tell the story so wonderfully. Peck has written "shifts" in several places of his script, allowing directors to construct their own connective tissue that links the scenes and fills in the back story.
Jackson uses sound, video and dance in these shifts to create a strong mood to the piece. The result is a rewarding show that teeters on, but never falls into, the realm of the preciously artistic.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
'BONNIE & CLYDE'
By Adam Peck, directed by Mark Jackson for Shotgun Players
Through: Sept. 29
Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Tickets: $20-$35, 510-841-6500 or www.shotgunplayers.org