Riverside’s ‘Bomb-itty of Errors’ filled with mayhem, magic and a lot of heart

The Bomb-itty of Errors

Riverside Theatre — through July 2

The cast of Riverside Theatre’s ‘Bomb-itty of Errors, L-R : Chris Walbert, Felipe Carrasco, Zach Twardowski and Barrington Vaxter. — photo by Zak Neumann

Riverside Theatre’s second summer Shakespeare production is the hilarious and touching “ad-rap-tation” of Comedy of Errors, entitled The Bomb-itty of Errors. This comedic hip-hop musical, which runs through July 2, is not to be missed.

This hilarious send up of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, written by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum and Erik Weiner, marks the Q Brothers return to Iowa City — last autumn, the Q Brothers devised a new work, Rome Sweet Rome, for the University of Iowa’s Theatre Department, turning Julius Caesar into a biting satire about contemporary politics, media and the election season.

Unlike that work, Bomb-itty of Errors is lighthearted and broad in its humor. Many scenarios sound like the setup for classic jokes: a bike messenger, a Rastafarian and a Hasidic Jew enter a brothel. At one point, a monkey and Shakespeare himself even run across the stage.

The plot adheres closely to Shakespeare’s early comedy of mistaken identities, itself an adaptation of a Roman comedy, Menaechmi by Plautus. Many of the characters and even many of the throwaway lines and bawdy allusions are Shakespearean, but this is a fresh take on an old play. As the characters rap in the prologue, this is neither tragedy nor comedy, but “a new style, whatever we want to be.”

Postell Pringle of the Q Brothers collective makes his solo directorial debut in this highly choreographed but breezy and accessible comedy, trusting his brilliant cast to showcase their myriad talents. Jhe Russell’s choreography is energetic and dynamic, and DJ One Way spins and scratches to create the score of this show.

On opening night, the audience waved their hands in the air and laughed throughout the heartening performance. Due to soaring temperatures, the play has been moved from the Lower City Park to Riverside’s Gilbert Street Theatre, but the black box theatre was more conducive to capturing the feel of a DJ set at a club than the outdoor venue would have been. As the audience entered, DJ One Way was spinning some 1990s and 2000s hip hop on his turntables, such as Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes, Ying Yang Twins and Kanye West.

The cast — Felipe Carrasco, Zach Twardowski, Barrington Vaxter and Chris Walbert — raps a high-energy prologue explaining the backstory of the play: The four are two sets of identical twins with shared names, separated at the age of two after the untimely deaths of their father and mother. Years later, both sets of brothers are trying to follow in their MC father’s footsteps, leading Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse to Ephesus. The prologue not only offers the gist of the play, but also helps the audience acclimate to the fast-paced rhythm and comedic style of performance.

The arrival of the Syracusan twins disrupts the settled life of Antipholus of Ephesus (Twardowski) and his comedic servant sidekick MC Dromio (Carrasco). Antipholus of Ephesus is trying to please his shrewish wife Adriana (Twardowski plays both spouses) and his sassy mistress Desi (Walbert), falling into debt with his jewelry maker (Vaxter). Antipholus of Syracuse (Vaxter) is a self-serious but unlucky-in-love MC. Dromio of Syracuse (Walbert) does all of the errands of both Dromios, paying off the wrong debts and angering all of Ephesus, including a belligerent police officer (Carrasco again) in trying to complete his duties. All is resolved when the brothers find each other through an almost divine intervention that occurs between a brothel (Othello’s Pleasure Palace, or OPP) and a church. Whew!

‘Bomb-itty of Errors’ runs through July 2. — photo by Zak Neumann

This is fully an ensemble production, and with its multiple roles the four actors need to be able to act, rap, sing, dance, create distinctive characters, have great comedic timing and also create touching moments. This cast exceeds at all of these difficult tasks.

Vaxter, who recently played Banquo in the Riverside Theatre in the Park’s production of Macbeth, plays the bewildered and amorous Antipholus of Syracuse well, offering a seductive smooth jam in his song “Luciana” and showcasing his comedic talents as the long-winded Hasidic jewelry maker Hendelberg.

Twardowski plays the closest to a straight man role in his Antipholus of Ephesus, but he also plays his own wife, the southern belle nightmare Adriana, as well as the bike messenger/wannabe MC Bobby with a spot-on impression of Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn’s star-making turn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High).

Walbert, who was a scene stealer as Tony (Marc Antony) in Rome Sweet Rome, demonstrates his smooth dance and MC skills, rapping his lines as the clownish Dromio of Syracuse with finesse and playfulness. Walbert expertly engages the audience in his song about the monstrous Bertha and as the Rastafarian herbalist Dr. Finch, getting the audience to scream and wave their arms in the air.

But it is Carrasco, a Riverside Theatre regular, who plays Dromio of Ephesus, Luciana and the Cop (as well as several minor roles) who is the breakout star of this tight crew. In this 90 minute production, Carrasco is omnipresent, running through the set’s simple four-door setup to emerge as a new character only seconds later. As the Cop who menaces Antipholus, he alternates between a Southern accent, Irish lilt and the bark of a drill sergeant, which somehow works better than it seems. His Luciana is an absolute joy, transcending her initial shrillness, as she grapples with her own complicated sense of loyalty to her sister Adriana and her newfound desire for Antipholus. He plays the character with the cross-dressed dedication of a Kids in the Hall cast member, offering a warmth and depth to what could easily be a one-note dumb blonde stereotype.

This farce of mistaken identities also has a lot of heart. The two sets of brothers have been visited by their father’s ghost, informing them “one day you will find your missing link,” and we look forward to the recognition and reunion of this family. Shakespeare’s comedy plays with miracles and magic, and this adaptation is magical in transforming this old work into something so vibrant and boisterous.

The Bomb-itty of Errors runs for seven more performances: Sundays and Tuesday at 7 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17-30.

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