Sunday, September 4, 2016

Reclaiming Shakespeare: Bomb-itty of Errors at the Nevada Conservatory Theater

After a long (and busy) summer, I am excited to be back to writing my weekly blog posts. Friday night, I attended the opening of Bomb-itty of Errors at the Nevada Conservatory Theater at UNLV. The play billed itself as the precursor to Hamilton, so I was expecting to hear intricate wordplay and have a great time. Bomb-itty of Errors definitely delivered. I disagree with a recent review of the play by the Review Journal that Shakespeare would not have recognized the source material. On the contrary, I think this adaptation is perhaps more faithful to Shakespeare's plays than faithful reenactments.

Promotional poster. Retrieved from
While Shakespeare is now considered to be high culture and difficult to understand, but it was once low-class entertainment for the common man. Shakespeare invented words and focused on lyricism and rhythm in his plays. Men played female roles and oftentimes multiple characters. While some people could enjoy the dramatic soliloquy of Lady Macbeth, others could be entertained by a man calling attention to his "woman's breasts." Shakespeare appealed to a variety of audiences in the original performances, not only high society that we sometimes associate with Shakespearean theater.

Bomb-itty of Errors capitalized on these associations and adjusted Shakespeare's play Comedy of Errors to contemporary hip-hop themes. Hip-hop and rap are common vernacular of today, making it a fitting substitute. The flow and rhythm of the rapped dialogues brought back the cadence of the original writing. I was amazed by the amount of information that the 4 actors memorized. They played all of the parts, so memorized at least 1/4 of the 2-hour play's discourse. They also had to remember what position to be in and what outfit they had to be wearing (and sometimes what accent to use) throughout the play. Even with this heavy burden, the actors succeed flawlessly in delivering funny, engaging, and understandable lyrics. Many of the jokes were subtly hidden within the dialogue (such as adding in lines about taming shrews), or in an actor mimicking the style of a famous rapper (I noticed DMX in particular). There were also overt comedic moves, like the overbearing, racist cop and the ditzy sister, Luciana. The variety, however, made this adaptation true to the performances of Shakespeare's days.

Play promotional image. Retrieved from UNLV's Events Calendar.

Three of the male actors played sizable female roles (and the fourth played one momentarily), adjusting their voices, outfits, and demeanor to be good actors but also sources of comedy simultaneously. One of the highlights of the play was the scene where the two Dromios argued about which of the two female characters (played by each of them) was more attractive. The self-awareness was refreshing and elicited a laugh from me even after I thought the play had come to an end. The play highlighted the humor of men playing female roles by creating close contact between the actors and outrageous costumes.

I previously commented on a play adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. That play modeled itself after a rock opera, seeking to emphasize Gray's fall to sin with rock and roll. I found that adaptation fell flat, primarily because of the adjustments made to the story itself. Bomb-itty of Errors, however, seamlessly updated the story to contemporary hip-hop culture, using stereotypes to its comedic advantage. Theater allows for immense creativity and the ephemeral quality of performance. The Bomb-itty of Errors show I watched had many references to Las Vegas and the current election season. The lyrics and jokes could be updated, adapted, even ad-libbed (as many rap battles are) to fit the situation. The play and the actors' words are now lost in the wind, remnants of a contemporary oral culture where lyricism and word play still capture public attention.

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