Off the Chain

American Stage's 'Bomb-itty of Errors'

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click to enlarge AT PLAY: From top, Charles Anthony Burks, - MC Kevin Shand, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, ranney and - Chris Edwards star in The Bomb-itty of Errors. - Samantha Dunscombe
Samantha Dunscombe
AT PLAY: From top, Charles Anthony Burks, MC Kevin Shand, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, ranney and Chris Edwards star in The Bomb-itty of Errors.

The Bomb-itty of Errors, playing currently at Demens Landing as American Stage's Shakespeare in the Park offering, is as much about the joy of theater as it is about hip-hop, identical twins and mistaken identities. This wonderful production is as exuberant as any show I've seen in the last 10 years. It combines a marvelously inventive update of The Comedy of Errors with hilariously silly comedy, over-the-top acting, talented breakdancing and just simple fun. Hey, where else can you find two pairs of twin brothers, a hip-hop Hasidic Jew, a Rastafarian herbal doctor, and an au courant nun, all rapping and dancing while a balcony-strutting DJ spins discs and the stars shimmer down through the warm St. Petersburg night? If, like me, you were disappointed by the last couple of Park Shakespeares, this is the show that'll renew your respect for the institution. It's imaginative, ridiculous and strangely faithful to the Bard's original. It may be a trifle too bawdy for kids, but for the rest of us, it could hardly be better.

What's surprising is how close this seemingly freestyle adaptation is to its fabled ancestor. The original, one of Shakespeare's first comedies, is about twin brothers named Antipholus and their twin slaves, each named Dromio. One day, all four men end up together in the city of Ephesus, where each is mistaken for the other, and a series of misunderstandings leads to more and more comic chaos.

The Bomb-itty script, by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum and Erik Weiner, holds to this plot pretty tightly. But there are several transformations: hip-hop rhyme instead of blank verse, 21 male and female roles played by only four male actors, break dancers and "fly girls" gyrating aggressively in intervals, and all on a set that looks like a neglected inner-city street corner, flanked by enormous stereo speakers. And though the main characters are still called Antipholus and Dromio, the play's period is changed to a surreal rap version of now in which everyone rhymes and the herbalists channel the spirit of Bob Marley.

And then there's the language, which is delightful in its least and most Shakespearean moments. For instance, a woman and her sister discussing a wayward husband: "It's his own fault/ that you put on some weight/ It's his own fault/ that your abs aren't that great/ It's his own fault/ that your boobies are swayin'/ It's his own damn fault and it's time I complain."

Or MC Hendelberg (whom Shakespeare called "Angelo"): "I'm sorry I couldn't make it, I got caught by the Mrs./ She had tickets to a documentary about Gefilta fishes/ It was pretty good but in Yiddish without translation/ Never mind that-ish, here's my situation."

Often the changes in the text are particularly clever updates. So where Shakespeare has, "There's not a man I meet but doth salute me/ As if I were their well-acquainted friend," Bomb-itty has "Everywhere I go, people givin' me skin/ They sayin' "Whassup?' and they callin' me friend." And occasionally Bomb-itty takes Shakespeare direct: "It is yourself, my own self's better part/ My eye's clearer eye, my heart's dearer heart/ My food, my fortune, my sweet hope's aim/ My whole earth's heaven and my heaven's claim."

Now, none of this would work without multitalented actors, and fortunately Bomb-itty's got four who've totally mastered the material and who easily dominate the stage. First among equals is Chris Edwards, who plays Dromio of Ephesus, a threatening cop and "Jim the Whore." Edwards is excellent in all roles, but it's as Luciana, sister to Mrs. Antipholus, that he brings down the house. Edwards' Luciana is a bubblehead, an ultra-sincere, ultra-dumb space cadet who thinks that all males are filled with "knowledge, wit and strength," and who'd wait for her man "in the doorway, butt-naked."

Local actor ranney is also terrific in a number of parts, including Antipholus of Ephesus and his wife, Adriana. His is a short-tempered Antipholus, always ready to blame Dromio for the confusions of the evening, and willing to march off to the nearest courtesan the moment his wife seems unavailable. Charles Anthony Burks in four other roles displays a powerful talent, but he's quite perfect as Dr. Pinch, the Rastafarian physician who soon has the audience clapping hands along with him and shouting out "Rock the Nation" and "Echinacea." And Joe Hernandez-Kolski, as Antipholus of Syracuse and Hendelberg the Jewish jeweler, is a joy from first moment to last, not least when he's breakdancing to "Hava Nagila."

All the other elements of the production are also tip-top: Lino Toyos' urban set, with doors that open into a bright kitchen and a whorehouse; David C. Wooland and Amy J. Cianci's hip-hop costumes, including the inevitable sweat shirts; and Paulette Johnson's hyper-kinetic choreography, which would wake the dead if they weren't already moving to the beat. Finally, director Andy Goldberg has to be congratulated for meshing so many elements so successfully. This is a complicated show, but thanks to Goldberg, it all runs smoothly, and without missing a comic chance.

This kind of production makes Shakespeare in the Park seem indispensable. And after the last couple of shows, that was no sure thing.

See it and become a fan again.

Actors Alert. A few months ago I wrote about Dick Schaal, the longtime television actor and improv specialist, who had moved to the Bay area and was looking for acting students. Readers responded immediately, and Schaal's classes, at American Stage and elsewhere, soon filled up. Well, now Schaal's again looking for actors, this time to fill places in an ongoing cabaret in Indian Rocks Beach. In short, Schaal now has an agreement with a Brewmasters restaurant to produce five shows a week there, from Thursdays to Sundays, with a percentage of the proceeds going to the actors as pay. He needs at least eight men and six women, and, to his surprise, has had some difficulty finding them. If you think you might have a flair for cabaret, call Schaal at 727-596-6246.

Just for the record: Schaal's for real, and so is his commitment to expand theater in this area.

Contact Mark E. Leib at mark.leib @weeklyplanet.com or call 813-248-8888, ext. 305.

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