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A CurtainUp Review
The Bomb-itty of Errors
by Les Gutman
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.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF PLAYS MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of Hamlet
CurtainUp's review of The Mystery of Irma Vep