The Bomb-itty of Errors
Also see Richard's review of Permanent Collection
Like a lot of folks my age, I first encountered Shakespeare in high school English. Julius Caesar in the tenth grade, Romeo and Juliet (heavily expurgated) in the eleventh, and Hamlet in our senior year, all taught with the formality of a catechism class by teachers who had seldom if ever seen a professional stage production of any of the plays – this was Little Rock in the 1950s – and approached the texts as if they were holy writ. In a way, this was an advantage; I read through the one-volume complete Shakespeare my parents gave me for graduation many times, committing vast patches to memory, always seeing myself as Olivier or Gielgud, declaiming in flawless Public School English. So at least I knew, or thought I knew, the words.
Then I met a British expat who made a tenuous living directing community theater. Short of bodies, he cast me as Snug in an abbreviated version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I still recall the dumbfounded disbelief with which he greeted my first pompous reading of my (very few) lines. With the infinite patience of an excellent Special Education teacher, he brought me to understand that the divine Shakespeare actually wrote in the language of the Elizabethan street. For all the exquisite imagery of Titania's speech defending her ward, he showed me, there was equal joy in the bawdy roistering of the rustics and their richly poetic comedy. From that production on, I have understood that Shakespeare wrote about the human condition, in all of its ugliness and absurdity and glory, in language that was accessible – and appealing - to all classes of society, and I have loved the plays all the more for that.
This is a long way of getting around to saying that I was not shocked by the language of The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip-hop re-telling of The Comedy of Errors, nor was I taken aback by the outrageously funny – and brilliantly performed – physical shtick with which the seemingly incompatible settings of ancient Ephesus and contemporary America are melded into one glorious world of farce. And I believe that Shakespeare would have loved it too.
The Bomb-itty, the third and final show in the Repertory Theater of St. Louis's "Off-Ramp" series, began life as a collaborative student project at NYU and gradually worked its way into the big time, with a national tour and an opening in London's West End. For all that its authors are, um, not exactly the kind of people who would turn up in the posse of Snoop Dog, or whatever he calls himself these days, it does have a certain street cred, enhanced in this production by DJ Spae, who is a real presence on the New York hip hop scene. The four gifted comedians who make up the entire cast – something north of a dozen characters, counting walk-ons - are not as persuasive as rappers as they are as clowns, but that's lost in the giddy whirlwind of their movement. The evening's single act speeds by in a blur of dazzling characters: Jason Babinsky, nominally Dromio of Syracuse, being outrageous and hilarious as a ditzy blonde Luciana and equally deft as a campy cop; Omar Evans (the other Dromio) as a hooker and as a rasta-man herbalist; Jake Mosser (Antipholus of Syracuse) as the goldsmith; Jason Veasey (Antipholus of Ephesus) as the lissome Amelia.
Woven into the exhausting farce, which gets down to door-slamming and unbelievable quick changes in its final minutes, are a few threads of more serious thought, not developed but flashed MTV-style, such as when the white Antipholus and the African-American Dromio (of Syracuse) compare their skin color and don't see a difference. It's about the notion that hip hop is a bridge that crosses cultural divides, maybe a way out of some of our most vexing difficulties as a country.
Nick Corley, the director, and Luke Hegel-Cantarella, the scenic designer, did this show together at the Adirondack Theater Festival, and the experience matters; the effectiveness of Bomb-itty's mad pacing depends on the space as well as on the blocking, and both work flawlessly here. And one can't say enough about the costumes by Maiko Matsushima, which not only look great but function without a hitch in the brilliant quick-changes.
Which is to say that the Rep's Bomb-itty of Errors is a show pretty much without them, a wonderfully funny evening of theater that Steve Woolf and the Rep can be proud of and William Shakespeare would be down with. It will run through December 9 at the Grandel Square Theater. Don't miss it.
The Bomb-itty of Errors by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory Qaiyum, and Eric Weiner. Music by Jeffrey Qaiyum. Produced by the Repertory Theater of St. Louis.
For ticket information, call 314-968-4925 or visit the web site at www.repstl.org.