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A CurtainUp Review
The Bomb-itty of Errors

by Les Gutman

Bomb-itty Redux by Elyse Sommer

As is not uncommon our human resources are often too small to keep up with our appetite for the bottomless menu dished up by that vast enterprise known as New York theater. Thus, a few tasty morsels invariably slip through our net. Fortunately Les Gutman caught up with Bomb-Itty of Errors in January.

While Les and I are several generations apart we more often than not agree on what's good and what isn't. Still his enthusiasm for this hip-hop take on one of Will Shakespeare's zaniest comedies, The Comedy of Errors, didn't quite persuade me that this was a new Shakespearian musical comedy for all ages. Shakespeare in rap-rhyme? Hip-hop music at an acceptable decibel level? Could my always sensible associate have gone slightly overboard in urging me to "try it, you'll like it?"

Well my trusty colleague was right. Bomb-itty of Errors is indeed a one-of-a-kind tribute to the enduring adaptability of Shakespeare, with enough imagination and energy to restore one's faith in the creative power of the so-called dumbed-down generation. Both Shakespeare and Charles Ludlum must surely be chuckling in their graves at Bomb-itty's quick-change, quick-on-the-rap-rhymes artists. Granted, the audience at the Friday night performance I attended consisted largely of Generation X couples, but the older couples like us who were scattered here and there had a great time. And not one of us covered our ears. In fact, I very much enjoyed the music and the lilt and tilt of such rap lines as:

And as the brothers grew up on opposite coasts
One night they were visited by their father's ghost
And he told his sons of their hip-hop history
And said in a voice that was filled with mystery
"One day you will find your missing link
When you look in the mirror and see yourself blink."

Even If you haven't brushed up on your Shakespeare, the above makes it clear that the Bomb-itty quintet has. (posted 2/19/2000)

During the waning days of 1999, I made what I hope will be considered a forgivable mistake. My editor, you see, asked me to review more shows than I could squeeze into my year-end schedule, so I had to make some choices. In doing so, I chose to see The Public Theater's Hamlet, and pass this rethinking of The Comedy of Errors by. It seemed a logical choice. Hamlet starred an accomplished actor, Liev Schreiber, directed by a prominent director, Andrei Serban, who is also of course the head of Columbia's graduate theater program. The Bomb-itty of Errors is staged at a new (and quite nice) performing space at the top of the stairs from the uptown Bleecker Street platform of the #6 train, with a cast of four NYU graduates the ink on whose diplomas is barely dry. Hamlet turned out to be a dispiriting waste of time; Bomb-itty is a faith-restoring demonstration that the Bard has survived beyond his own millennium. 

It's worth noting what Bomb-itty is and is not. For starters, it's a musical. Some will recall that The Comedy of Errors has already been musicalized by Rogers and Hart (book by George Abbott). Fear not; this is no rip-off of The Boys from Syracuse. Bomb-itty has a punchy mostly hip-hop score by its on-stage DJ, J.A.Q. (Jeffrey Qaiyum). (He's also the brother of one of the show's creator-stars, Gregory Qaiyum.) J.A.Q.'s work is the show's terrific backbone and, I should mention, not of the high decibel variety that might scare some folks away.  

Bomb-itty does indeed tell quite the same story as Comedy, but makes no pretense of being a faithful rendition of the play. This is no cheap knock-off, but a funny, carefully-crafted effort that is deceptively well thought-out. Although not without its lapses, it shines precisely because of all of the attention to detail on display here by cast as well as director/developer Andy Goldberg. This is the product of an enormous amount of work, not some dorm room invention that's good for a few laughs. (It is, in fact, good for a lot of laughs.) 

In this telling, Egeon and his wife (here known as Betty) have two sets of identical twins, so identical that they even have the same name. When Egeon is incarcerated, Betty gives them up for adoption. When, two decades later, Antipholus (Jordan Allen-Dutton, aka Rodan) and Dromio (Erik Weiner aka Red Dragon) of Ephesus come to Syracuse, they cross paths with their locally-reared siblings (Gregory J. Qaiyum aka GQ and Jason Catalano aka Gruff), producing a hilarious concoction of the usual antics and confusion, plus some novel ones. Mistaken identity and the delivery and payment for a certain gold chain (which itself makes a bit of fearless comment here) forms the core of the story.

The hysteria is heightened since the four actors also play all of the play's other roles, giving the "chase" moments worthy of The Mystery of Irma Vep. Highlights include Allen-Dutton as Antipholus of Syracuse's wife, Adriana and as an irony-laden, rhyme-impaired whiteboy bike messenger; Weiner as Adriana's sister Luciana; the very-talented Qaiyum perfectly evoking a gold-chain-bearing Hasidic Jew; and the engaging Catalano frenetically shifting from a prostitute here called Desi and a Rastafarian, Dr, Pinch). Goldberg's staging of some of these scenes, especially the penultimate one, is superb. 

Sets are particularly clever; lighting, sound and costumes are all first-rate. Nothing about this production feels accidental. 

This is a play that's accessible without regard to one's familiarity with the original, and the diverse audience at the performance I attended is testament to the expansiveness of its attraction. But while it has sacrificed some of the genuine article for sure, it has been remarkably faithful to its undertaking. There's no dancing on Willy's grave; an argument can be made this entertainment glorifies it. 

For those inclined to dismiss this enterprise, I suggest suspending your expectations long enough to let the play's emotions find you while the juxtaposition of Shakespeare's own words surprise you. Everyone else can just go and enjoy what is clearly a job well done. 

CurtainUp's review of Hamlet 
CurtainUp's review of The Mystery of Irma Vep

THE BOMB-ITTY OF ERRORS: A Add-Rap-Tation of Willy Shakespeare's Comedy
Written and Performed by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ and Erik Weiner

Directed by Andy Goldberg
Set Design: Scott Pask
Lighting Design: James Vermeulen
Costume Design: David C. Woolard 
Sound Design: One Dream Sound and Sunil Rajan 
Original Music written and performed by J.A.Q. 
Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes without intermission 
45 Bleecker, 45 Bleeker Street, (@Lafayette) (212) 307-4100
Opened December 12, 1999 for open run
Reviewed by Les Gutman 1/9/2000 based on a 1/8/2000 performance
Closed June 18, 2000
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