Full disclosure: I don’t know all that much about the hip-hop. (Surprise, surprise). However, I was curious when I heard that the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival would be presenting a show called The Bomb-itty of Errors in its summer lineup. Based on The Comedy of Errors (also the basis for the marvelous Rodgers & Hart musical The Boys from Syracuse, as well as the not-so-marvelous Oh, Brother), the farcical plot revolves around two sets of twins separated at birth and the chaos of mistaken identity that ensues when they end up in the same town, taken from the ancient plays of Plautus. It’s one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays and is a full-out, no holds barred low-brow slapstick comedy.
Shakespearean purists might be affronted, but the rest of the masses will undoubtedly be amused (and I like to think those in the stalls at the Globe would have been amused, too). Utilizing a cast of four, a DJ and a unit set, the high spirited, fast-paced production directed by Chris Edwards produces a fountain of laughs. If some of the shtick falls flat and it’s not as consistently strong or satisfying as last year’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (there are bound to be inevitable comparisons between the two), there is enough in Bomb-itty, which is unashamedly bombastic and ribald, to amuse and entertain. The bulk of the show’s success is due to the superlative ensemble, who each play multiple roles in a sort of rapping panto. As a sort of hip-hoperetta, the piece takes some liberties with the storyline and structure (this time both sets of twins are fraternal quadruplets. Don’t ask, just enjoy), but tells the fundamental plot using rap, rhythm and the assistance of the dee-jay.
While the text may be a bit too raw for my taste, the casting is flawless. The four actors play multiple parts, men and women (oh, the drag…) and bring the audience into the action in a way that isn’t quite possible with any other variation of this piece. All four are utterly fearless, unafraid to push the envelope of ribald comedy and completely free to throw caution to the wind. Some of the humor might be a bit too lewd for the kids, but then again it might just sail over their heads. Parents, use your own discretion.
Michael Borrelli scores the biggest laugh of the night channeling a Hasidic Phil Silvers (as jeweler Himmelberg, another creation that I don’t recall from the original), telling a three minute improvised “Yo Momma” joke the show to a crashing halt with its inspired comic brilliance. Christian Jacobs, billed as the Phantom of the Choppera (whom I’ve known since high school and whose worked I have always enjoyed), is the most at ease with the hip-hop form and is a collection of manic energy and frenzy; bold and fearless. Patrick Halley (Wintry Mix) is steadily amusing throughout, but his highlight is an inspired turn as Luciana; strident, stupid and unbelievably vapid Luciana, whose later entrances were enough to induce belly laughs. Wayne T. Carr (Black Light) plays both Antipholus of Ephesus and his wife Adriana, and is so believable and so vibrant you forget how easily he switches from one to the other. Christopher Joshua McCardle is DJ iPhool, who has very little in the way of lines, but provides important support from his sound booth and turntable.
More than any other show that I’ve seen at the festival, the sound and lighting design play a far more substantial part with the proceedings and help to give the theatre the feeling of a night at a club. I must give kudos to whomever was working behind the show’s “curtain” with the props and costume changes. There were changes so fast and so clean I couldn’t help but gasp (the same could be said for those around me). I cannot begin to imagine the frenzy of dresses, wigs and pieces that flew around in that limited backstage area.
I don’t know how artistic director Terry O’Brien feels about the musicals based on Shakespeare plays, but with the success of Bomb-itty I’d be really curious to see if the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival would tackle Your Own Thing or Galt McDermot and John Guare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. The other shows this season include Troilus and Cressida and The Taming of the Shrew. I’ll be reporting on those soon.