I have a confession to make. While I love live theatre - both performing in it and watching it - I've never been the biggest Shakespeare fan. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the man's brilliance. But between the evolution of the English language over the past 400 years and the fact that my brain just seems to have problems following a story through iambic pentameter, I've really never wanted to perform in a Shakespeare play, and I rarely go see them. My second confession: I also don't listen to much rap. So when I was asked to review a rap version of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, I thought, "Hmmm... this could be an interesting challenge." Turns out my fears were unwarranted - City Theater Company's Bomb-itty of Errors is a hysterical, modern take on Shakespeare's classic farce.
As soon as you walk into OperaDelaware's Black Box theater, you know you're not in for your typical Shakespeare staging. The entire Bomb-itty experience is supposed to evoke the feeling of a club. There's a light and laser show, a bar, seating right at the stage on stools as well as bench and cabaret seating around 3 sides of the stage, and DJ Swizzul on the 4th wall. You read that right - there's a live DJ spinning the beats that serve as the show's soundtrack. If you feel like getting up and dancing to the music, you're free (and, on many occasions, encouraged) to do so. It does feel a little awkward at times when the actors are telling you to "put your hands in the air" and only a couple people actually do it. But it's hardly the show's fault that the audience wasn't ready to be part of the show.
Comedy is a story of mistaken identity - two sets of identical twins, each twin separated at birth but raised as brother to one of the other twins, and each twin given the same name. When full grown, one set of "brothers" arrives in the town of the other set, and mass confusion and hilarity ensue. Bomb-itty uses 21 different characters to tell the story, but they're all played by only 4 actors. Additions to each actor's costume help you to know when they've changed character and which twins are which. It's a challenge that seems daunting between the frequent costume changes and having to keep their lines to the rhythm of the music. But this group of actors never misses a beat (pardon the pun).
The cast consists of 3 men - Chris Banker, Patrick O'Hara, and Brendan Sheehan - and one woman in Dylan Geringer. But each actor plays a variety of roles of both genders. And the gender swapping is a big part of the humor of the production. In fact, each cast member's most hilarious role is likely one in which they're playing the opposite sex. Sheehan is hysterical as Adriana, complete with long red wig, yellow sports bra, and enough attitude to stop a Mack truck. Luciana is Adriana's dim-witted sister, and is played to a loveable T by O'Hara with flowing blonde locks that are frequently twirled just right between his fingers. Geringer's Jewish jeweler Hendelberg will crack you up with Steve Carell-style uncomfortableness (if that's a word) - just wait for her painful attempt at a "Yo mama" joke. And while the Rastafarian Dr. Pinch is probably Banker's character you'll remember most, his opportunity to work a pole as a dancer in a "house of ill repute" is a side-splitting scene that can't be unseen.
Not that the comedy is limited to simple sight gags. There's plenty of humor to be found in the show's pop culture references, witty wordplay, and impressive rhyming. And to me, that's the most impressive part of this production. If you're going to tell a story in rap, your actors have to be believable as emcees. They have to be able to nail the inflection and the timing, or it just feels ridiculous. Not only does this cast do that, but they do it while running around the theater and keeping up with their costume changes. They never sound out of breath, never miss a mark (or if they did, they worked it into the show so smoothly that the audience couldn't tell), and have great comedic timing. With no intermission, I felt exhausted for them by the end of the show. But if the actors were exhausted, they never once let it show on stage.
If Shakespeare were alive in modern times, would he have written any of his shows in rap? It seems unlikely, but it's a testament to his work that, 450 years after his birth, people are still finding new and creative ways to bring his tales to today's audiences. And if it gets this Shakespeare-inept reviewer to enjoy the show, who can argue? City Theater Company's Bomb-itty of Errors continues at OperaDelaware's Black Box theater through May 17th. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.city-theater.org .
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