Saturday, July 14, 2007

Review: Stoppard's Rough Crossing

We headed off to Massachusetts once more this week, this time to see theater in the Berkshires. Shakespeare & Co provide a lovely location for players just a short drive from here (well, short in born-in-a-car terms -- about an hour door to door), just around the corner from Kripalu, Tanglewood and Edith Wharton's old home. We were there to see Stoppard's Rough Crossing, a light-hearted farce on board a ship. We timed it so we could also catch a pre-show lecture on Stoppard's humor and have time to enjoy a picnic as well.

The set captured the nautical ambiance with a minimum of gestures. I have a prejudice for the bare stage, so I thought it just right. I don't know the source materials at all, the Hungarian play by Molnar, nor the version adapted by Wodehouse, so it was fun to hear from the lecturer that Stoppard turned the original setting, an Italian castle, into the name of the ship. I imagine that was only the beginning of the changes. The plot, which centers on mismatched lovers and playwrights without an end to their new musical romance (opening in four days!), sounds a lot more like Wodehouse than Stoppard, but he has a lot of fun with the conventions. The songs, written with André Previn, sound authentic. The inept inebriate steward, Dvornicheck, (played by LeRoy McClain) quickly proved a crowd favorite. Jonathan Croy kept the center of the action grounded as the playwright Turai, lending the role a canny and calculated nature, but one who was not above tooting his own horn loudly. Jason Asprey gave his partner Gal the somewhat befuddled air of a man more interested in his stomach than art. As the hapless composer Adam Adam, Bill Barclay managed to give an air of innocent romanticism while carrying out some of the silliest bits of the dialogue. Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Malcolm Ingram give buoyancy to the usual egoistic stars of the plays, always quick to sell art up the river for commerce if it means a better role. Kevin Coleman's direction captures the deft speed and lightness the materials requires to keep from being too self-conscious.

While bereft of the philosophical and political depths of many of his other plays, Rough Crossing features a lot of intricately woven jokes relying on Stoppard's usual nimble wordplay, as well as complicated details (the composer's verbal affliction or attempts to turn lies into believable truths). The cast were well prepared for the linguistic acrobatics and seemed to make the most of the fun. Well worth the drive!


Anonymous said...

I went to see the same production of Rough Crossing. And I also saw the original production in London in 1984.

One of my problems with the Shakespeare and Company production is that Dvornicheck is supposed to be an extremely competent steward, except he's out of his element on a ship. That's why Turai wants him on his staff.

I find the fact that the character was directed to be incompetent in this production irritating.

I also felt the timing of the cross talk was off and the joke about Dvornicheck staggering around except when the ship was in a storm was spoiled by Turai slipping all over the shuffle board court.

Plus Dvornicheck wasn't blocked to move much during the storm in the second act. My friend, who hadn't seen the original, thought they were in a storm most of the time and it just got worse in the second act.

I was disappointed.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Interesting -- It's one of Stoppard's plays I haven't read, so I knew only the bare bones of the story. I'd agree that Dvornicheck seemed far too broad for what the role required, which seemed to play very well with the rest of the audience. I envy your getting to see it in London back in 1984. I think I've never seen Stoppard in the same city twice. We saw Arcadia in Connecticut and Hapgood in Houston. Nevertheless, it was fun.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more of Stoppard's work. I've read most of his early plays and very much enjoyed Rough Crossing in London.

Which was why I was so eager to see Shakespeare and Company's production. Alas, the director seemend to completely miss so many of the points in the play. So sad.

It's interesting to me to see Michael Kitchen in so serious a role in Foyle's War and remember how funny, with excellent timing, he was as Dvornicheck in Rough Crossing. Very good actor.

C. Margery Kempe said...

I love the word play and the challenges he offers the audience. In a time when everything is spoon-fed, it's a relief to actually be asked to use some intelligence, to participate. The best theatre always involves the audience.

I will always see Michael Kitchen squinting as George Briggs in Enchanted April. I can imagine him to be excellent as Dvornichek. Definitely a lighter touch for the part--I can imagine him taking a much more subtle approach.