How often do you settle in for a Shakespeare play and see young fans scream out for their favorite player, "Dromio, I wannna meet you!" How often does the Bard inspire a crowd to stand up and wave their hands in the air, wave 'em like they just don't care? Well, not often unless the production has bypassed your run-of-the-mill Shakespearean storytelling for a turntable and a few microphones in Off Broadway's "add-rap-tation" Bomb-itty of Errors.
Begun as the cast's senior thesis at New York University's Experimental Theatre Wing, this frenetic collision of hip-hop and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors moved on to a workshop at Vassar before catching the attention of downtown producer Daryl Roth. Roth found a funky new space for the show, 45 Bleecker, and then enlisted director Andy Goldberg and a seasoned design team--lighting designer James Vermeulen, set designer Scott Pask, costume designer David C. Woolard, and sound designers David Ferdinand of One Dream Sound and Sunil Rajan--to put their spin on the hip-hop Shakespeare hybrid.
As told by the four cast members (Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, GQ, Erik Weiner) and a deejay (J.A.Q.), the story goes a little somethin' like this: two sets of identical twins, one pair named Antipholus and the others called Dromio, are separated when their father loses his fortune. One set of twins is raised in the city of Syracuse, while the others grow up in the city of Ephesus. Fast-forward 20 years and a farce ensues when the pair from Syracuse arrive in Ephesus, unaware of their identical siblings.
Collectively, the director and designers decided to aim low with deceivingly simple design elements that would allow the show to build from an elementary level. "The flats give the notion of having low expectations about the production you are about to see," says set designer Pask, who with Woolard also worked on The Donkey Show, the disco retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream. "You walk into this gritty space where the tops of the jacks are poking up. They are meant to look like these very skinny painted flats."
On the costume side, Woolard says that the characters' first introduction is also purposely straightforward. "When we first see the four guys come out for the prologue, we're seeing them present-day, so you're not expecting the vibrancy when we introduce all of the characters and the story itself," he explains. Delving into teen magazines, album covers, and pop culture, Woolard designed the establishing looks for the two pairs of Antipholus and Dromio to be easily identifiable among many characters (all played by the cast of four). Both actors playing Antipholus wear long baggy pants and red and black running jackets. The Dromios wear more playful oversize three-quarter shorts and bright yellow sweater vests over white T-shirts.
All of these elements are set up in the prologue, which starts with one light over a "Con Ephesus" manhole cover center stage. "It's like a bunch of guys sitting around a flaming garbage can on a street corner rapping," says Vermeulen. "Then it opens up into a bit of a bluish look that is broken up and still has a street feeling. But at a certain moment we kind of pull back into this one light again and then the entire truss is lit up like rock and roll."
Researching early Beastie Boys and Run DMC concerts, Vermeulen took many of his cues from the concert world. But the key to his design was blending concert looks with theatre lighting. "There were two plots involved," he explains. "A rock-and-roll plot with a truss full of PAR cans, ACLs, and star strobes. But the main plot, the theatre plot, was ETC Source Fours and a bunch of Wybron Color Scrollers. It's rap, Shakespeare, rock and roll, and a musical. So to walk those lines was pretty wild."
Sound designers David Ferdinand of One Dream Sound and Sunil Rajan were also confronted withcombining concert and theatre styles while keeping the neighbors happy. "One of the problems we faced was the upstairs neighbor gave us grief about the low end, so originally it was much more hip-hop base," says Ferdinand. "But we reached an agreement where he could live and the show could live."
Being a good neighbor first and foremost, the sound designers then approached the dual nature of the production. "The sound system is trying to give subtle reinforcement for the natural sounding periods when they're just talking to each other or over light background music," explains Ferdinand. "And then when the music picks up, the headsets [the actors wear], which put the mic very close to the mouth, allow us to get the oomph of their voices over the top of the music when it does get loud."
Working within a downtown budget, Ferdinand and Rajan made economical equipment choices that would deliver on the dollar. "The PA system is mostly EAW, with a little bit of Altec in there too," says Ferdinand, referring to the EAW SB528 subwoofers combined with Altec 640 cabinets and the vocal delay system made up of EAW JF80s and J50s. The designers also used Shure U2 Beta 87 handheld transmitters and Shure U1 and U4D receivers, and some modified Countryman B3 mics. "We have a T. C. Electronics Effects M2000 effects unit and Chevin Research amplifiers. And it's an Allen & Heath GL2 console, a very small rack-width console because we didn't have a lot of room."
Space restrictions at 45 Bleecker, a stage depth of only 10' or 11', also played into Pask's set design. All of the worlds he had to create were inventively presented behind the doors of each flat. There is the tacky suburban-style house of Adriana, Antipholus of Epheseus' wife; the gaudy seediness of Othello's Pleasure Palace (OPP); and the hilarious holy ground of a "sports" convent where basketball is iconic. Getting to the nunnery, Pask collaborated with Vermeulen to come up with a door layered with pulsating flicker candles and an illuminated stained-glass window shaped like a basketball. "Trying to have the interiors of these read like real spaces completely contrasted the outside, where the flats are drawn and painted," he explains. "Meanwhile, the doors are rendered to have these sort of funny little explosions on the interiors."
While space was an issue for Pask, costume changes were the rub for Woolard. He had to create numerous costumes for each actor who, in some instances, had to change roles by simply walking offstage and back on again. The designer opted for broad strokes to relay character in designs based mostly on hip-hop, with a few Shakespearean touches.
For Luciana, Adriana's dim sister, Woolard said it all with a baby-doll dress and blonde wig. (Vermeulen adds a saccharine-sweet and very funny touch to this character by projecting cartoonish heart and musical note gobos on the wall during "Luciana," a love song devoted to her.) In a cut velvet dress, Adriana is a Jersey housewife with a bit of sexy edge. Hendelberg, the Orthodox jeweler/rapper, is outfitted a la Run DMC with a long triple fat goose down coat and Jheri-curl sidelocks. A brainstorming session between Woolard, Pask, and Goldberg also birthed the idea for a Hendelberg-designed necklace--a golden steering wheel outfitted with the Club.
Other Woolard creations include Dr. Pinch, the local medicine man, in full Rastafarian regalia; an overzealous cop from the 'hood in Kangol cap, sunglasses, and a blue running suit with yellow stripes; Desi, the OPP proprietor and lady-of-the-night-with-an-attitude in animal print and stretch; and the abbess of the sports convent, who has a wimple shaped like an oversized baseball cap turned backwards and a robe of athletic mesh.
Supporting the design team were lighting assistant Jason Lyons, master electrician Brian Mauiri, lighting supplier Four Star Lighting, sound operator David Arnold, lighting operator Dan Gunes, production manager Joe Robinson, assistant set designer Lisa Merik, scenic builders Atlantic Studios, assistant costume designer Melissa Schlachtmeyer, costume builder Jennifer Love, and stores "up and down Broadway," which furnished additional costumes. Bomb-itty continues its run at 45 Bleecker and can be visited via cyberspace at www.bomb-itty.com.