The purloined plot

Stage West's Rough Crossing is a pleasant journey by a plundering playwright

You might wonder how the author of the time-bending jigsaw puzzle Arcadia and a chatty attack on the philosophy of logical positivism, Jumpers, wound up mediating sexual shenanigans in a backstage comedy set on an ocean liner. Still, you switch off your brain during Rough Crossing at your own peril, because Stoppard is still Stoppard even in a floating bedroom farce. The script is full of his linguistic playfulness, the way he messes with meaning and, especially, landscapes miscommunications into great gaudy gardens. One of the funniest running gags is the attempt by Sandor to get a cognac from the tippling ship's waiter Dvornicheck (Chuck Huber), who can never seem to get the terminology of sea life right (he insists on calling the engine room "the basement") and who constantly, willfully misinterprets Sandor's words as an invitation to drink with the playwright.

Huber opened the play inciting storms of laughter from the audience, and I'd be concealing something if I didn't admit that ticketbuyers at the last preview kept right on laughing and even gave scattered applause to their favorite moments. But I lagged a little behind this enthusiasm; for one, Erin McGrann and Bill Jenkins as the stage co-stars and former lovers seemed to be acting in a different, altogether more florid show than the rest of the cast. McGrann seemed miscast to me from the get-go, a tad too matronly and no-nonsense in her character actress' look but seemingly attempting to compensate with exaggerated diva details. Jenkins, meanwhile, has the fading matinee-idol mug and booming, self-aware voice to make his preening version of Ivor Fish feel like an obvious choice. We've seen Jenkins tread this comic route so many times before, we can almost feel the grooves worn by his shoes under our own feet, and since he's also won us over with comic characterizations that contain much more variety, he's disappointing here.

From left, R. Bruce Elliott, Ashley Wood, and Mark Waltz are stage artists struggling to finish a play on an ocean liner in Stoppard's genial confection.
Buddy Myers
From left, R. Bruce Elliott, Ashley Wood, and Mark Waltz are stage artists struggling to finish a play on an ocean liner in Stoppard's genial confection.

Still, if you're in a generous mood to indulge a cast of very likable performers who for the most part have the rhythms of this material down pat, you'll likely forgive the comic excesses and enjoy Rough Crossing as heartily as the preview audience seemed to. You won't get to know the real Tom Stoppard from this nimble farce any more than you did from Shakespeare in Love, but the mask full of friendly mischief he turns out can make some damned entertaining small talk.

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