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Revival in the park

American Stage brings back the rap show The Bomb-itty of Errors, joining The Taming of the Shrew in back-to-back Shakespeare in the Park productions.

By JOHN FLEMING
Published April 5, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - American Stage is going to find out whether you can go home again this week, when it revives The Bomb-itty of Errors, one of its most successful Shakespeare in the Park productions.

"It was weird walking back into the rehearsal room," director Andy Goldberg said. "In a way it was different, and in a way it was not."

Bomb-itty, an "ad-RAP-tation" of The Comedy of Errors, was a break with tradition when it first played at Demens Landing in 2002, and it went on to have a remarkable run that traveled through Chicago; Dublin, Ireland; and Edinburgh, Scotland, on its way to London's West End. Now three of the four actors in that production - R.M. "Ranney" Lawrence, Joe Hernandez-Kolski and Chris Edwards - have returned, along with DJ Kevin Shand and director Goldberg.

"When we said goodbye in London, we didn't think this group would be together again," Goldberg said. "It's kind of nice to come home after going on this world tour."

For the 20th anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park, American Stage is trying something new by presenting two shows on the downtown waterfront, following Bomb-itty with The Taming of the Shrew.

"People still talk about Bomb-itty," said Todd Olson, the theater's artistic director. "I always kind of wished we could get it back. This year when we wanted to diversify out there, it seemed to be a good warmup act, to bring back a favorite that people knew. The question for us is if we can affect people's playgoing habits enough so that they will come to both events."

Bomb-itty was created as a senior class project by its original performers - Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum and Erik Weiner - at New York University in 1999. Goldberg directed hit productions in New York and Chicago before bringing it to St. Petersburg the first time.

The idea to turn A Comedy of Errors into a rapper's delight was inspired. Shakespeare's shortest play, it is a knockabout farce about identical twins named Antipholus, separated at infancy in a shipwreck, who both happen to have twin servants named Dromio. Mistaken identity runs rampant.

The hip-hop version roughly follows the Shakespearean plot, though it drops the servants and makes the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios each a set of twins - actually, quadruplets who were split up when their father, a rapper, winds up in prison for peddling pot. The four actors play 16 different characters, with 73 costume changes, from bike messenger to cop, Rastafarian herb doctor to prostitute to jeweler.

Though the aim is to seem improvisational, Bomb-itty is tightly scripted, with the actors trading lines at a pell-mell pace. Postell Pringle has joined the three veterans of the show for the revival in the park.

"Memory's an interesting thing," Goldberg said of rehearsals that began last week. "They all remember each other's lines more than their own. It's almost worse because they know they know it, but they don't really. They know all the rhymes, but the specific words can take some work."

Still, the task of memorization aside, Goldberg thinks the cast is in great shape. "They're so free with the material now that it's just a joy. It's sort of strange and funny to be rehearsing again and discovering new jokes. They just know these characters and each other so well."

The last time Goldberg worked on Bomb-itty was in London, where the show did less than boffo business. The second cast there was all-British. "They were talented guys, and they brought a lot to it," he said. "It didn't have quite the same flavor. There's something about the British comedy aesthetic where they pulled it more into panto (pantomime) and broader humor. I kept on having to yank them to a more American sensibility, which wasn't natural to them."

There are plans afoot to take Bomb-itty on a tour of colleges next fall. Goldberg doesn't think the show has become dated in the ever-changing zeitgeist of hip-hop.

"Kevin keeps on throwing in things all the time, so there are little musical quotations that are new," he said. "Even when it was created it was kind of old school hip-hop, sort of looking back to the Beastie Boys and De La Soul."

Goldberg, who also directed a popular Romeo and Juliet in the park for American Stage, is building a good resume. Based in New York, he recently directed The Name of This Play Is Talking Heads, a satire by Marc Spitz about MTV-style rock journalism that got a lot of attention. His staging of Gabba Gabba Hey!, a Ramones musical, is headed for the Edinburgh Festival this summer.

Bringing back Bomb-itty made some financial sense for American Stage. Shakespeare in the Park is the theater's most expensive production, budgeted at about $185,000 for the two shows this year. Actors' salaries make up the largest part of the cost, and a show with a cast of only four helps the bottom line. The Taming of the Shrew, which Olson is directing, has a cast of 14.

The two-show strategy is not without risk, and the theater hopes to encourage attendance by offering half-price tickets to Shrew for anyone who buys a full-price ticket to Bomb-itty, or vice versa. Both will be performed on the same basic set, designed by Mark Kobak, and the turnaround time is short, with Bomb-itty closing on a Sunday and Shrew having a preview the next Thursday.

But if the two add up to a successful run, then Olson can imagine pairing more or less traditional Shakespeare with other sorts of repertory in the future.

"If this works out, doing a musical in the park and a Shakespeare in the Park might be a good idea," Olson said. "I think we satisfy different parts of our audience that way."

John Fleming can be reached at 727 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com Times photo - LARA CERRI

Joe Hernandez-Kolski is among three of the four original actors returning for this production of The Bomb-itty of Errors.

PREVIEW

The Bomb-itty of Errors opens Friday half-price preview performances this Wednesday and Thursday only and runs 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through April 17, at Demens Landing, St. Petersburg. Full-price tickets are $12-$25. (727) 823-7529; www.americanstage.org

[Last modified April 4, 2005, 16:46:02]


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