Smooth sailing

Posted July 12, 2021

Rough Crossing Web 8

American Players Theatre’s “Rough Crossing” is a frothy delight.

By Gwendolyn Rice | Isthmus

The play, which opened July 3 in The Hill outdoor theater, is Tom Stoppard’s playfully witty parody of movie musicals with overly complicated plots and outlandish resolutions. It is also an opportunity for area audiences to see APT favorites doing what they do best. The cast, made up of very familiar faces from APT’s core company, is extraordinary. Each actor seems to revel in filling a role that begins as a comically broad and overwrought stock character, moves on to the edge of ridiculous, and then is saved from himself (and other castmates) when everything miraculously works out. Frequent APT director William Brown brilliantly layers smart physical comedy over an already smart script, resulting in an evening full of double entendres, dramatic reversals, slapstick, word play, and delightful song and dance. To his credit, this is a production that is undoubtedly even more amusing on stage than it was on the page.

Scenic designer Scott Adam Davis creates spare but elegant spaces that perfectly set the mood aboard the “SS Italian Castle,” with only a few railings and a door with a prominent porthole. (For good measure, the luxury liner is fully pictured on the vintage advertisement that hangs in the back of the stage as an adjustable drop.) Through clever use of a balcony and one main playing area, we are ushered into the world of a glamorous ship filled with even more glamorous people, who could only have stepped out of a silly, black-and-white Hollywood comedy.

In this liberal reworking of Ferenc Molnár's The Play at the Castle, Stoppard has put playwrights at the center of his story. Gal (Jamal James) and Turai (James Ridge) are screenwriters who are completely “lost at sea.” Mired in the new script for a musical movie that simply will not hang together, they are resolved to use their four days at sea to completely rewrite the ending of their picture. And the middle. And, well yes, actually the beginning also. Then, of course, comic complications arise.

High on a balcony above the writers’ cabin, the two stars of the film, Natasha and Ivor (Kelsey Brennan and Marcus Truschinski), share a passionate exchange. Once lovers, they enjoy one last romantic night together before he plans to return to his wife and family and she resumes her engagement to Adam, young French composer for this musical. As their amorous parting is overheard by the lovestruck pianist and the movie’s authors, there is a necessary rewriting of reality as well as the script, trying to untie the knot that these lovers have entangled themselves in.

Read the full review here.