Light, frivolous and monumentally silly, Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “Rough Crossing” is a delightfully fluffy show with no moral, no message and no character development.
In other words, it’s a great night at the theater.
Playwrights Sandor Turai (Timothy Nolen) and Alex Gal (Michaeljohn McGann) are on a ship bound for New York, where they will premiere their new show, which they are still writing. On board with them are the show’s pompous and dim-witted leading man Ivor Fish (David Staller) and beautiful leading lady Natasha Navratilova (Ann Kittredge), between whom there has been some sexual dalliance — a problem, considering Ivor is married and Natasha is engaged to the play’s musical composer Adam Adam (Robert J. Hamilton), who is also onboard.
The writers and the composer happen to overhear some frank talk between Natasha and Ivor, and of course Adam is devastated. To make everyone happy again, Turai devises a plan wherein Natasha and Ivor will present a scene they’ve written for the play, and the scene will contain the dialogue that the others overheard: They weren’t actually fooling around; they were merely rehearsing this new scene they’ve written!
This being a farce (albeit a relatively uncomplicated one), things don’t go according to plan. Landlubber ship steward Dvornichek (Max Robinson) gets in the way and causes trouble — but he also cures writer’s block for the playwrights and everything turns out OK in the end.
“Rough Crossing” was written by English playwright Tom Stoppard, currently up for an Oscar for writing “Shakespeare in Love.” And like Shakespeare (the subject of not a few Stoppard plays), Stoppard is fond of the “play-within-a-play” format. “Rough Crossing” is pretty clever about the whole thing: The play Turai and Gal are writing on the ship actually takes place on a ship, and its plot occasionally parallels the lives of the people onboard with them. They complain about how the first few minutes of their play do not reveal enough information to the audience, which becomes hilarious as the audience realizes that the same could be said of “Rough Crossing.” The play manages to make fun of itself by making fun of the bad play Turai and Gal are writing.
Of further amusement is Adam, who has an unfortunate speech impediment that causes him to be slow in answering questions. Usually, by the time he answers a question, a second one has already been asked, and his response appears to be concerning the second one — which leads to some very funny double-meanings and misunderstandings.
Again, the play-within-a-play thing: Adam’s poor timing prevents him from playing the lead in Turai and Gal’s show, but his poor timing — actually very good comic timing — makes him an outstanding character in “Rough Crossing.”
And so it goes. Stoppard has a knack for writing plays that are at once broad and silly, and yet which also contain brilliant wordplay and dialogue. (How many “dumb comedies” use vocabulary words like “mollycoddle,” “abeysance” and “petulant”?) It’s the best of both worlds.
All six cast members plays their parts with utmost comic ability, making this an excellent production of an excellent play. James Wolk’s smashing set design is also worthy of mention.
No one else liked this show. Not my friend who saw it with me, not the other critics, no one. Screw 'em all, that's what I say.