Thursday 17 April 2014

Bomb-itty of Errors is zany good fun

Quick snapshot : What do rap / hip-hop lyrics have to do with Shakespeare? Everything! At least in the saucy, cheeky production Bomb-itty of Errors now at the Granville Island Revue Stage until May 10th.

Based on Shakespeare's early slapstick giggler The Comedy of Errors that is all about mistaken identites, Bomb-itty is a fest of rap, rhyme and songs that re-tells the Bard's story about two sets of twins, parted at birth, and how their identities criss-cross one another while a DJ spins hip-hop music behind them.

Director Catriona Leger sums it up best : "This play has everything I love in the theatre : Love triangles! Revenge! Mistaken identity! Mischief! Dancing! Crossdressing! Music! And, of course, Shakespeare."

The identity criss-cross is assisted nicely by the "coincidence" of each set of twins having been given the same forename by their worn-out mom who'd dropped her "litter" in the maternity ward before disappearing into the night. Thirty years later we find we're dealing with Antipholus from Ephesus and his manservant Dromio. Their respective twins, from Syracuse, are Antipholus and Dromio, too. So when the lads from Syracuse visit Ephesus, identity mix-up and madcap antics roar out of the starting gate. (Hereafter initials will i.d. who's who in this zany zoo.)

To add to the hilarity, there are some 20 characters in the piece -- many of them cameo -- but all of them are played by just four actors. And it's the same four who reprise their 2012 Jessie Award-winning production done then by the Temporary Thing troupe via Twenty Something Theatre under Artistic Producer Sabrina Evertt. These talented lads are Brian Cochrane, David Kaye, Niko Koupantsis, and Jameson Matthew Parker, joined in the redux gig by DJ Oker Chen. Watching these guys gleefully sporting stockings-&-boobs to play their twins' spouses, I thought I was right back in the thick of John Irving's current novel In One Person that celebrates the narrator's cross-dresser actor Grandpa plus a host of contemporary transgender'd souls.

The Bard's original Comedy was built on puns, wordplay, sight gags and plot shenanigans involving countless dubious and dimwitted characters from the shady side of town, huffy insultees who hiss, ditzes &c. &c. All these types were created by "MC Willy Shakes" -- as Director Leger muses he might be known today -- to entertain holiday-time beer-swilling Elizabethan law students from Inns of Court in fin de siecle 16th century. So when a quintet of New York University Department of Drama students* decided to adapt a Bard script in 1999 in the "rap" mode of that epoch, they chose just the right one and aimed it at the same "target demographic" -- just a Y2K version instead of a 16th century one.

Oh yeah. A "bomb" in millennial-speak is "heavy sick". And "sick", don't you know, is big-time good. So if you are wearing "sick" jeans they are tres, tres cool. Thus they wanted to emphasize that this contemporized version of "Errors" is considered a major whack-o-jolly-good story. A bomb-edy of a com-edy, just re-spelt contempo -- got it?

Plotline sketch :  The plotline is simple. Unmarried S.Antipholus quickly meets up with E.Dromio and thinks him the S.Dromio instead, while E.Dromio acts as if this Antipholus is his married boss. Therefore the two of them think each other is addled or stupid or just obstreperous when they confuse each other's roles, relationships, and activities in town centre Ephesus. Flip that scenario over to the other two twins and you've got quadruple mix-ups occurring serially.

Now add E.Antipholus's wife Adriana and her airhead sister Luciana into the mix. Adriana can't figure out why S.Antipholus, her "man", is acting so aloof from her. And meanwhile S.Antipholus develops the hots for Luciana, who is scandalized that her "brother-in-law" could come on to her, but charmed as well. Along the way throw in MC Hendelberg (Jewish jeweler rapper), a scatology obsessed keystone cop, spaced out Bobby the tone-deaf bike courier, rastafarian naturopath Dr. Pinch and a Nike nun -- oh lordyno end of Bard-like busy-ness to challenge and tickle the 21st century brain.

Production values :  Even 15 years after its conception and first steps, this play-cum-breakdance-cum-musical-cum-slam-poetry-jam is a marvel in its imagination and high-kilowatt energy. The opening prologue reveals these four brothers are two sets of twins from the same Mom whose drug dealer Dad suicided in prison. Their orphan history is simple : "Grew up in the world of hip-hop / Surrounded by the 1-2-3 don't stop!" They tell the audience this ain't comedy, this ain't tragedy, "It's a new style, it's whatever we want it to be!" But mostly it's comic. When E.Dromio thinks S.Antipholus is his married boss, S.A. answers right smartly : "I have no mistress / I have no maid / It's been months / Since I've been laid!"

Nevermind the mistaken identity schticks. The cross-dresser turns of Niko Koupantsis as Lew-chee-ann-a! are nothing shy of brilliant. It looked to me like he enjoyed that role even more than his straight E.Dromio one. Jameson Matthew Parker as Adriana is equal to the x-dress challenge, too, but the part is just not as LMFAO as Koupantsis's. David Kaye dancing about as Dr. Pinch gets top footwork marks. Throughout Brian Cochrane as both S.Antipholus and as MC Hendelberg elicited great guffaws.

Words are stretched to achieve forced rhymes -- "Ephesus" somehow rhymes with "breakfast is" early on. Hip-hop patois and rhythms abound as in the sing-songy "Dro-me-oh-oh-oh-ee-oh-ee-oh-ee-oh", while break-dance riffs command centre stage attention constantly. Messrs. Koupantsis and Kaye are superb in that regard, particularly at the end when Brothers Dromio meet each other again for the first time. Choreographer Joel Sturrock has executed his challenge remarkably, not just the dancing but also the nanosecond costume changes required of the cast. Costume designer Vanessa Imeson pulls off harlequin-esque costumes for the four principals wonderfully well. The cameo costumes for the in-drag parts were goofy good fun each one. Ian Schimpf's West Side Story-ish brightly coloured brick-&-corrugated iron doors graffiti motif was perfect for the tight Revue stage. 

Who gonna like ? : Let me repeat what Director Catriona Leger said at the top : "This play has everything I love in the theatre : Love triangles! Revenge! Mistaken identity! Mischief! Dancing! Crossdressing! Music! And, of course, Shakespeare." Throw in hip-hop rhythms and original music (by Anami Vice) to boot, and you've answered the question. In the zone on all those planes? You'll come away delighted. 

Meanwhile Shakespeare purists, people who figure "rap" is missing the letter "c" at the front, and folks who like their tunes in musicals to be hummable on the way home -- well, this one maybe ain't exactly the one you're gonna want to stand in line for. 

For the rest? Bomb-itty is just so irreverent and clever and imaginative and low-brow-brilliant it's time well wasted as Comedy Central puts it. You can't help but hiccup & giggle.

* Playwrights from NYU : Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory Qalyum, Jeffrey Qalyum and Erik Weiner.


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