Review: “Rough Crossing”

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oakbrook
When: through March 2
Tickets: $26-$37
Phone: 630-986-8067

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

In the right hands, Tom Stoppard’s “Rough Crossing” is hilarious. Based on Ferenc Molnar’s “Play at the Castle,” the delightful, verbally dense farce revels in witty word play and running gags while sending up the conventions of 1930s musical comedies, the people who created them and a whole lot more. Gathered on the S.S. Italian Castle’s transatlantic crossing to New York to rehearse a show that’s far from fully written, the characters are a collection of theatrical stereotypes ranging from a sarcastic playwright to a melodramatic diva. The show they’re supposedly rehearsing has an impossibly convoluted plot, while Stoppard’s is an exercise in sheer silliness.

Farce is very difficult, and despite a game effort, First Folio Theatre doesn’t do the play justice. Instead of being incredibly funny, it’s merely mildly amusing. Director/choreographer Alison C. Vesely has a heavy hand, and the pacing is off. Rather than letting their performances flow naturally, the actors tend to be somewhat forced, sometimes deliberately overacting or milking lines and gestures that would be funnier with more finesse.

While the principals include playwrights Sandor Turai (David Rice) and Alex Gal (Rene Ruelas), their young prodigy of a composer Adam Adam (Alex Weisman), rather dim leading man Ivor Fish (Christian Gray) and diva Natasha Navratilova (Gail Rastorfer), the glue that holds the evening together is the ship’s new steward Dvornicek (Kevin McKillip), a.k.a. Murphy, who’s just learning nautical lingo, takes every instruction literally, has a taste for cognac and periodically fills the audience in on the plot twists of the play, play-within-a-play and play-within-a-play-within-a-play he couldn’t possibly know. McKillip gets the biggest laughs with his antics, though the others have their moments as they navigate a story that centers on everyone’s efforts to dispel Adam Adam’s speech impediment-inducing jealousy of his lady love Natasha’s seeming liaison with her ex-lover Ivor, so the young composer will finish the songs for the musical, and Sandor and Alex can complete the script.

The apropos music for Stoppard’s lyrics in “Rough Crossing” is by Christopher Kriz, but his compositions between acts and scenes lack the right period feel. Inconsistencies also undermine some of the other technical elements, although Angela Weber Miller’s bilevel ship’s set is a highlight that’s almost worth the trip to Oak Brook.

“Rough Crossing” was my first foray to First Folio. I might go back in summer when performances are outside on the estate.