Aboard-ship high jinks abound in ‘Rough Crossing’
By Catey Sullivan For Sun-Times Media February 20, 2014 2:22AM
Gail Rastorfer and Christian Gray star in “Rough Crossing” at First Folio Theatre. | PHOTO BY MELISSA CARLSON
When: Through March 2
Where: First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, Ill.
Info: (630) 986-8067; firstfolio.org
Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Updated: February 21, 2014 2:23AM
Tom Stoppard, a playwright renowned for hyperintelligent, devastatingly literate and witty dialogue, goes a bit lowbrow with “Rough Crossing.”
The result, in First Folio Theatre’s staging of the shipboard tale of a romance over troubled waters, is inspired lunacy.
When things get choppy between Adam Adam (the invaluably, impossibly cherubic Alex Weisman) and the vixen Natasha Navratilova (Gail Rastorfer in full-on sloe-eyed vamp mode), the stage is set for a crew of gloriously knuckleheaded cohorts to employ all manner of whackadoodle efforts to make things right.
Have an aversion to musical theater? So much the better. Under Alison C. Vesely’s direction of Stoppard’s words and Christopher Kriz’s infusion of original jazz songs, “Rough Crossing” is as much parody as homage — a paradage if you will — of both show tunes and the melodrama that so often surrounds them.
Consider, if you will, the sight of matinee idol Ivor Fish (Christian Gray) in Impossibly Handsome Man Mode, with his ascot tied at just the proper jaunty angle, earnestly bellowing to his lady love that “you have plucked me out of your life like an olive out of dashed martini.”
There’s a good many references to dashed martinis before the close of “Rough Crossing,” and an equally copious bit of business involving cognac, the latter handled with master clownery by the rubber-limbed Kevin McKillip as the delightfully dim-witted Dvornicek, a clueless crew member who takes his passengers’ orders’ absolutely literally.
To be sure what happens aboard ship (said vessel gorgeously realized by set designer Angela Weber Miller, of Evergreen Park) isn’t as important as the urgent nonsense among the various passengers.
The story, such as it is, centers on a trio of musical writers: Sandor Turai (David Rice in a dashing goatee); Alex Gal (Rene Ruelas), who for reasons never thoroughly explained is never seen without bouquet of celery or carrot tops sprouting from the spot his pocket square ought to be); and Adam Adam. They are joined by Gray as Leading Actor Fish and by the siren Natasha Navratilova, presumably no relation to the tennis player.
The troubles are twofold: First, the musical that Alex, Sandor and Adam are writing is a right mess. Secondly, Adam has overheard Natasha pitching woo more squarely in the direction of Ivor and has, thus, been reduced to a stuttering emotional wreck. The show can’t go on, in fact can’t even get written, unless Adam’s broken heart is mended.
That’s the setup. The execution is laugh-out-loud hysterical, completely ludicrous and often absolutely stupid in the best possible sense. Listen for Ruelas to stop the show twice:
Once with a zinger about the manners of women and children around the lifeboats and once with a malapropism involving his terrible childhood. The entire ensemble embraces the absurd with such raucous, wonderful glee that you’d have to be overboard and sinking fast not to enjoy the sublime zaniness of it all.