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Bring the . . . iambic pentameter? The Bomb-itty of Errors at Adirondack Theatre Festival.

The Bard’s Gonna Knock You Out


By James Yeara

The Bomb-itty of Errors

By Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory Qaiyum, and Erick Weiner, music by Jeffrey Qaiyum, directed by Nick Corley

Adirondack Theatre Festival, through July 15

Like Mentos dropped into a half-liter bottle of Coke, The Bomb-itty of Errors explodes Shakespeare’s shortest and earliest play, The Comedy of Errors, into a spume of colors, clichés, characters, and cadences. Updating Shakespeare’s goofiest comedy (itself an adaptation) this hip-hop self-titled “ad-RAP-tation” bursts with flavor and rhythm, making this show not just a fun introduction to the mayhem of Shakespeare, but a witty addition to Shakespeare-inspired musicals. It’s the funniest, funkiest, wittiest, wackiest show you could hope to see this summer.

The Bomb-itty of Errors streaks by in 99 minutes, the four-actor cast (Jake Mosser, Benton Greene, Omar Evans, Jason Babinsky) whirling through the 20 characters of Shakespeare’s play. Costume designer Maiko Matsushima gives the servant Dromios bright green baggy shorts and plaid shirts, and the upper-class Antipholuses black jeans and white muscle shirts, stylishly slashed, which makes the cast as eye-popping as Luke Cantarella’s graffiti-fried set. There are three brightly colored sets of doors for the three Ephesus locales of Antipholus’ house down right, the “Pleasure Palace” (with a sweet use of pink) down left, and the abbey up center. Jeff Nellis’ lighting design makes the cast and set pop; this is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears.

Literally overseeing this production is DJ Spae (Jordan Connors), who creates the beats for the various songs standing above the upstage center entrance to the Ephesus Abbey, his purple-and-gold-trim Spanish ruff creating lots of bling. The five create a take on The Comedy of Errors that not only preserves its plot—two sets of identical twins, master and servant, who, unaware of their long lost brothers, create one misprision (the most basic comedic device where one thing is mistaken for another) after another as they rush through Ephesus—but captures the madcap rhythms of Shakespeare’s ur-text; COE is almost 90-percent poetry (of its nearly 1,800 lines, only 200 are in prose).

Particularly fun are the quick changes finding the four creating one of the female characters: Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife Adriana (Benton Greene), her blonde-bimbo little sister Luciana (Jason Babinsky), the head courtesan of the Pleasure Palace (Omar Evans), or the Abbess (Jake Mosser). Adriana’s lament “It’s your own fault/That you can’t pitch a tent/It’s your own fault/You know what I meant/The jury is hung/It’s your own fault/But my husband is not” captures the essence of The Bomb-itty of Errors. All four in the cast create specific, physically exact, and hysterical characters sometimes literally with just a twirl, but Babinsky’s Luciana is spectacularly engaging, like watching a breathy cross of Holly Hunter and Jessica Simpson, and her word-association scene brings the house down. Nick Corley’s direction keeps the juggling of characters from falling into chaos, and his chase sequences are inspired. The Bomb-itty of Errors earns its standing ovation and inspires the audience to keep their hands in the air. It’s a show that shouldn’t be missed.

The Collector

I Am My Own Wife

By Doug Wright, directed by Jeffrey Mousseau

StageWorks/Hudson, through July 23

StageWorks/Hudson’s production of this 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama features one actor, two acts, and 37 characters in 95 minutes. John Pollard’s set is as exact as each one of the 37 characters: orderly stacked rows of numbered cardboard boxes downstage left and right, antique furniture placed precisely and tastefully across the stage, an ornate doorway up-center opening to a deep-blue-colored room equally precisely and tastefully adorned with antique furniture. Two gramophones prominently command the stage.

And extreme stage right, as still as the stacked boxes, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (Jeffrey Kuhn) stands with a polite smile that acknowledges the entrance of the audience into her home, the Grunderzeit Museum in Berlin. Wearing a black dress and black headscarf, Charlotte soon begins weaving her web of stories; truth and lies twist, unravel and mend over the 74 years of her life. The fascination that first US News & World Report reporter John Marks, then playwright Doug Wright, felt is palpable as Kuhn, in startling transitions done in minute enactments, creates each of the people whom the transvestite Charlotte, born Lothar Berfelde, “collected.”

A prime example of “meta-theatre,” a play about the creation of a play, I Am My Own Wife centers on a person about whom the playwright states, “she doesn’t run a museum, she is one.” Always filled to the brim with knowledge about her collections, be it furniture, artifacts, or men, Charlotte’s stories and the reactions to them teeter on her bravery, surviving both the Nazis and the Stasi, the East German secret police, as an openly homosexual transvestite—and as a collaborator who “gathered to preserve” the artifacts from the homes of Jews deported by the Nazis, and turned in her best friend, Alfred, to the Stassi. Explaining away Charlotte’s complicity in Alfred’s betrayal by noting “one of three East Germans were spies for the Stasi” may be a salve to collaborators with atrocities. Wright, the playwright, settles his concern over Charlotte’s stories being contradicted by documents by stating “I pledge to believe.”

Kuhn’s performance is outstanding, and the standing ovation Sunday was testimony that no matter how ambivalent an audience member may have felt about the contradictions that were Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, there was unanimity on the excellence of Kuhn’s vocal and physical talents.

—James Yeara

Everything Blows

Anything Goes

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter; libretto by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse; directed by Roger Rees

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Mass., through July 16

After what seems an eternity, that condign master of music and lyric, Cole Porter, is back in Williamstown. Porter was one of the first donors to the fledgling Williamstown Theatre Festival, and there was a time when he was well-represented at the WTF in this town where he once lived.

Unfortunately, he is not capably represented in the WTF’s parsimonious production. Kudos to Roger Rees for choosing the show, which has already sold out. The theater needs its frothy comedies. But why skim off the froth, skimp on the sets, costumes and lighting and sell out Porter? The proceedings have the look of a budget crisis colliding with insufficient craft and vision in staging musical theater.

For the “set,” designer Neil Patel and Rees have taken Porter’s title too literally. One does want to feel that the action takes place on a posh ocean liner in the 1930s, but apart from a trio of life preservers, the sole piece of scenery is a ship’s smokestack that moves, awkwardly, left and right and turns 180 degrees to suggest a short corridor. It is also the first ship’s smokestack to have door in it.

I don’t mind using my imagination, but first it has to be captured.

Nor does Frances Aronson’s lighting help delineate space. Staterooms all seem vast whether first class or third. Even the ship’s tiny brig stretches across half the stage. Only in one evening scene does Aronson rise above the routine to accomplish the workmanlike. Between Aronson, Patel and their minions, the effect is not unlike ill-imagined, and hastily rendered prom scenery.

Would that costume designer, Kaye Voyce, had a few prom gowns to liven up the most inadequate set of costumes to ever promenade about the WTF stage. Most characters have but one costume for the entire voyage; some leads get two.

Both are inadequate, for the show’s main character, the notorious singer, Reno Sweeny, a brassy sex siren, is played by the sadly miscast Sharon Lawrence. Lawrence is first clothed in an understated black-and-dark-blue tiger print, which is meant to subtly imply her nature. But Reno is not subtle, and Lawrence is more the well-mannered lady than the tigress. Her second-act costume is so nondescript as to make Reno blend into the crowd, just as Lawrence’s insufficiently projected voice frequently gets lost in the music.

At least Matt Cavenaugh projects clearly as Billy Crocker, but he is periodically overamplified, resulting in the worst of the show’s disembodied voices. Sound designer Nick Borisjuk and his crew should pack up their toys, the antennae-like microphones should be extricated from the performers’ heads, and the orchestra should be put in the theater’s state-of-the-art pit, an appropriate place for most of the show.

Fortunately, Nikki Renee Daniels plays Hope Harcourt, affianced to Sir Evelyn and in love with Billy. Daniels is a natural beauty who brings the freshness of the absent Atlantic to her every scene. Daniels’ voice lilts and trills, and floats and soars through Porter’s score.

Other reasons to sit through this shipwreck are the Angels, Reno’s four backup singers who bring energy, flirtatiousness, and pure voices to the fore-and-aft. Lisa Birnbaum (who would have made a better Reno), Sarah Turner and Liz Wisan are all accomplished, but Xanthe Elbrick has something special. All innocent seduction as Charity, she gives herself over completely to the moment and seems to be having the time of her life. They are all poorly costumed by Voyce, who doesn’t realize they are really devils.

Tim Foster’s choreography has moments of cleverness (integrating tambourines into “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” keeps the number from blowing it when Lawrence can’t shake the rafters), but it also lacks ambition in tap numbers. And there are places where dances, like Rees’ staging, seem more cobbled than cleanly conceived.

—Ralph Hammann

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