A few minutes after the prologue in Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip-hop take on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, you might wonder if the show is going to be the theatrical equivalent of the too-old-to-be-there white guy who, in the middle of the party, busts out with the Roger Rabbit. It's amusing for a minute or two, until the embarrassment threshold of the guests is reached.
But, in the case of Second Thought Theatre's season-closing show, stick with it for a few more minutes. You'll soon give in to the concept.
If you have preconceived notions that this 90-minute "ad-rap-tation" will be more dopey than dope, and that it's painful to watch white dudes who aren't the Beastie Boys or Eminem rap, they quickly dissipate. For that, props to this cast and to the witty script (by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ and Erik Weiner), which not only captures the spirit of hip-hop, notably of the old-school variety, but also of Sir Shakes-a-Lot's earliest, shortest and most raucous comedy.
One of the aspects that makes Shakespeare's original so entertaining is its wordplay and way with a pun. It's especially fitting for this kind of comedy, which is inspired by madcap Roman comedies (notably by Plautus). When you think about the best hip-hop, in terms of lyrics, it's all about turning a phrase so that the rhymes, metaphors and similes work, even when the words go out of their way to reach that destination.
So while a perfect rhyme -- say "practice" and "whack this" -- is the standard in these lyrics, the occasional out-of-the-way rhyme (like "errors" and "chair-ers") doesn't raise an eyebrow.
Bomb-itty was written in 1999, and while Second Thought's production, directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, uses some more recent slang -- a favorite is when Adriana, played by Joseph Holt (four actors play multiple roles), calls another character "cray" -- the concept reflects the first 15 years of hip-hop, through the 1980s. Track suits and headbands were de rigueur, the word "ill" took on new meaning, and the Snoop Dogg-initiated "-izzle" suffix wasn't on the radar yet (although they do work in "shiznit" at STT).
Bomb-itty keeps the basic story line of Shakespeare's play, and starts with a rapped prologue to set up the story of two sets of twins each separated at birth (Steven Michael Walters and Joseph Holt play the Antipholi; Drew Wall and Zac Kelty are the Dromios).
One of the merchants becomes Orthodox Jew Hendelberg (Walters is hilarious in that role); the conjurer Pinch is now a Rastafarian, Dr. P (Wall, who is the least successful of this quartet with the rapping, although he's no slouch); and as the Ephesian Dromio, Kelty proves he can Roger Rabbit with the best of 'em. Of course, the boyeez from Syracuse and Ephesus reunite with their twins in the end.
And the female characters, played by the guys, are more outrageous than the early videos of Missy Elliott.
Kelty is a dimwitted Luciana, Wall a Rosie Perez-like Desi (the courtesan in the original play), and Holt strikes comic platinum, playing Adriana as a mix of Lil' Kim by way of Jamie Foxx's Wanda character from In Living Color or Martin Lawrence's Sheneneh, and Jaston Williams' Jody Bumiller from the "Tuna" plays.
Thankfully, it doesn't all play out to one nonstop track of repeated beats. A good portion of the lines are spoken. Anders often accelerates the pace to frantic, and the cast keeps up. The rapped segments, in which timing and enunciation are most crucial, are no easy task. To paraphrase Tracy Jordan from 30 Rock, this script has more words than a Mos Def album. This foursome keeps it surprisingly tight.
Along the way, and true to hip-hop, we get pop-cultural references to Jimi Hendrix, Meat Loaf and Magnum, P.I., and to tracks by Jay-Z, House of Pain and Beastie Boys, to name a few. And here, O.P.P. stands for Othello's Pleasure Palace.
In my recollection, the last time Dallas saw hip-hop and Shakespeare mix this well (or at all) was when Soul Rep Theatre Company brought in the Hip Hop Theatre Junction to do Romeo and Juliet at Undermain Theatre, at least a decade ago. Two very different shows, but of course, Shakespeare's originals are vastly different.
Second Thought makes a case for the Bard and hip-hop to have some, as Queen Latifah once rapped, unity.