Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, March 2000
My sons, ages 11 and 17, and I were in New York City overnight visiting family and looking at New York University for my older son, and so a visit to the theatre was de riguer. The boys were lobbying for going to see “Dame Edna” on Broadway, but the cost of a Broadway show combined with the travel and fuss of waiting on line at the TKTS booth for half-price seats made that prospect less appealing. Then I saw a photo spread in The New Yorker magazine for “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” a rap adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” playing off-Broadway. They said the show was the best thing since sliced bread, we were planning to spend time in Greenwich Village, and tickets were reasonably priced, so I made reservations.
But there were larger reasons why the “Bomb-itty” appealed to me and why it ultimately was slightly disappointing - to me anyway. When I was 15 I fell in love with the theatre when I attended a matinee of the New York Shakespeare Festival musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the St. James Theatre. Another important theatrical event in my life was being taken, two years earlier, to see Peter Brooks’ Royal Shakespeare Company production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Bottom line: I would not be sitting here writing this review if I hadn’t seen those two shows. I wanted to take my sons to see a cutting edge, exciting version of Shakespeare too. I wanted them to have that same kind of life-changing experience I had.
Of course, you cannot buy or plan a life-changing experience. While I think this show HAS been life-changing for many, many people, it missed the mark for the three of us. I am a little old and jaded for a life-changing experience, or at least for the kind of youth-oriented experience offered by the Bomb-itty. Every generation needs its own happening version of Shakespeare, and for me it was “Two Gentlemen”. My older son was absolutely determined NOT to enjoy the show, and he didn’t. My younger son enjoyed it, but I could tell that it was not a defining moment in his life.
As I re-read the reviews after seeing the Bomb-itty I was struck that one thing about the show which really appealed to New York audiences was the fact that this show is just five guys on a single set in a tiny theatre with a DJ providing the music. New Yorkers are apparently so sick of falling chandeliers and landing helicopters in massive theatres with casts of thousands and hundred piece symphony orchestras that seeing five guys make theatre was something of a revelation.
On the other hand, we see an awful lot of the “five guys on one set” type of theatre here in the Berkshires, so my basis of comparison was very different. In fact the one burning question in my mind was “How do they compare to the Reduced Shakespeare Company?” If you are not familiar with the RSC, I encourage you to visit their Web site, see my review of their “Millennium Musical” which I attended in October of 1999, and immediately buy tickets to Shakespeare & Company’s July 2000 production of their seminal work “The Compleat Works of Wllm. Shkspr. (abridged)”.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company is usually three guys on one set with a lot of costumes. The Bomb-itty is really just two more guys and a single concept - bring rap/hip-hop to Shakespeare and vice versa. How did they compare? Pretty well. They matched the RSC in cleverness and silliness and far exceeded them in energy, but you have to factor in a twenty-year age difference there - all of the Bomb-itty guys are in their 20’s.
It is a good thing that Shakespeare wrote in verse because it makes the transition to rap that much easier. One thing the Bomb-itty guys have done really well is mesh Shakespeare’s lines with modern rap slang to maintain the sense and plot of “The Comedy of Errors” while bringing it into a different time and culture. I am not a big rap fan, and neither are my sons, but we had no difficulty understanding either that lingo or Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English. I asked my younger son if he understood the plot and he said, “Duh, Mom!” which I am clever enough to know means yes.
The one thing I found just thrilling was the performance of Erik Weiner (a.k.a. Red Dragon). I should explain that the five young performers who wrote, composed and created the Bomb-itty comprise the entire cast of the show. One of them is the DJ (composer Jeffrey Qaiyum a.k.a. J.A.Q.) and the other four play all the parts. Weiner took the role of Luciana, younger sister to the wife of one of the Antipholuses, and made her the funniest dumb blonde since Judy Holliday graced the stage. Lest he just be a good drag queen, I paid close attention to his performance in other roles (it wasn’t always easy to see who was who under wigs and costumes) and came to the conclusion that this young man is just plain brilliant. It will be interesting to see if I am right.
I realize that I have spent an awful lot of time whining about the failure of this show to be a life-changing experience (like I expect every show to be - NOT!) and whether or not it is as good as another group of silly Shakespeareans that I like, and I have failed to look objectively at the Bomb-itty and judge it on its own merits. Well, I am not being paid for this particular review, so I can ramble around as much as I like, but I do like to play fair, so here goes. This was a truly hilarious and enjoyable 90 minutes of theatre. I laughed a lot, I was introduced to five very talented young performers - one of whom I predict great things for - and I even enjoyed the rap music. If you are headed to New York City, I would encourage you to select “The Bomb-itty of Errors” over the falling chandeliers and landing helicopters and even the final gasp of “Cats.” If the stars are in alignment and you are open for it this could even be your life-changing theatrical experience. That’s worth gambling $39 on, don’t you think?
“The Bomb-itty of Errors” is running at the 45 Bleecker Street Theatre at the intersection of Bleecker and Lafayette Streets in Manhattan. The Bleecker Street stop on the IRT subway line takes you right there. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. While it has its bawdy moments, this is certainly a great show for the whole family and children eight and up will thoroughly enjoy it. Tickets are an affordable $39 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at 212-307-4100 or on-line at http://www.bomb-itty.com/tickets.html.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000