Rap is the language we speak in Riverside Theatre’s ‘Bomb-itty of Errors’

Photo by Zak Neumann

The Bomb-itty of Errors

Riverside Theatre (213 N Gilbert St) — Friday, June 23–Sunday, July 2

The Bomb-itty of Errors, adapted by the Q Brothers, opens Friday evening June 23, the second summer production of Riverside Theatre in the Park (although the theatre decided to move the performance indoors to its Gilbert Street theater). Director Postell Pringle explains that “this is a hip-hop musical, a clown show and mistaken identity romp of a comedy.”

It is also an “ad-rap-tation” of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which is itself an adaptation of the Roman playwright Plautus’ Menaechmi. The play is a comedy of mistaken identity — two sets of identical twin brothers with shared names are reintroduced to each other after two decades of separation. One set are settled members of their community of Ephesus, while the other are happy-go-lucky drifters from Syracuse.

As Pringle reasons, “Shakespeare is the model for adaptation. He stole from the Greeks; he stole from his contemporaries. He stole constantly, and that’s what we are doing, too. We are taking something and making it our own.”

In that sense, the Q Brothers openly steal from diverse sources, most obviously late 1990s’ and early 2000s’ hip hop and canonical authors, such as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. They are currently devising an adaptation of Aristophanes’ sexual and political satire Lysistrata (with the working title LIZ!), opening at the Flea Theatre in New York City as a “feminist, romantic comedy,” as well as a retelling of The Odyssey for the Chicago Children’s Choir.

An Iowa native, actor Barrington Vaxter — who plays Antipholus of Syracuse in this production — moved to New York City for several years. Upon his return to Iowa City in 2015, he discovered that while he was “always running off to do art … now the art is here,” citing Iowa City’s various artistic, theatrical, fashion and DIY music scenes as collaborative and creative communities that really developed over the last few years. It is in this spirit of creativity, collaboration and fun that he thinks that Bomb-itty will appeal broadly to Iowa City’s theatergoers.

Cast members Felipe Carrasco, Zach Twardowski, Chris Walbert and Barrington Vaxter. — photos by Zak Neumann

With DJ One Way spinning, this is a “hip hop musical to the tune of Shakespeare,” Vaxter explains. “You’re getting everything. It’s a great way to give people who are sometimes turned off by Shakespeare [the chance] to come in and experience Shakespeare in a new way.” Vaxter was also featured as Banquo in the recent Riverside Theatre in the Park production of Macbeth. While Banquo is an easygoing victim of Macbeth’s treachery, his Antipholus is “self-serious and arrogant,” a Chuck D to his servant Dromio’s (Chris Walbert) clownish Flavor Flav.

Pringle splits his time between Brooklyn and Chicago, where he is part of the Q Brothers Collective. Growing up in Atlanta, Pringle immersed himself in the world of hip hop at an early age and earned his degree in theatre at Bates College where he befriended GQ, one of the founders of the Q Brothers. Pringle’s artistic mission is to “marry hip hop and theatre,” citing his professor William Pope. L as the mentor who taught him how to become creator and curator of his own art, to bring issues of race and socioeconomic status into his art and to embrace the concept that “wrong and strong,” that we need to experiment and fail to create our best art.

When asked “Why Shakespeare and hip hop?” Pringle counters “Why not?” The contemporary hip-hop theatre scene is about “seeing what you want to see in the world, seeing people who are like-minded, seeing representation of yourself on stage. This validates who you are in the world.” After the phenomenal success of Hamilton, Pringle notes that hip-hop theatre is “no longer niche, no longer subculture.” For the Q Brothers, “Rap is always the language we speak.”

“There is also comedy in everything we do, even in our Othello,” Pringle states. With only four actors — Felipe Carrasco, Zach Twardowski, Vaxter, and Chris Walbert — playing multiple quick-change roles (including two sets of identical twins), “tons of drag,” a “license to be ridiculous” and an incredibly quick pace, this is an accessible contemporary farce. “There is a levity, having fun onstage.”

But Pringle states that we connect with these characters, who start off as broad stereotypical caricatures, during the course of the play. Vaxter, too, points out that beneath the levity, there is something deeper occurring: “All the characters are searching for something. What they don’t know is that they are searching for each other. This isn’t just a play about mistaken identity, drag and slapstick, but it’s a piece about the fractured self and the search for completion, the search for family.”

Pringle hopes that this play will have the audience partying, as the “spirit of the show” is about the spirit of the hip-hop scene of the 1970s and early 1980s: “people coming together and having fun.”

Colleen E. Kennedy is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa in a split position between the Departments of Teaching & Learning and English. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 223.

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