Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
“Rough Crossing,” Tom Stoppard’s so-called musical, might better be named “Rough Viewing.” Or rough to tolerate. Or rough to sit through. This tiresome, trivial piece, though only two hours long, seems to go on ad nauseam. The current Yale production (soon, fortunately, to have finished its run) has its Stoppard moments of wit, but it is decisively thin material.
And yet, amazingly, the audience adored “Rough Crossing.” Is this a commentary on the standards of New Haven audiences, or were we watching different shows?
Granted that Stoppard is well-intended, as he attempts to move into the world of farce and musical comedy. And granted that he has occasionally written pieces just for fun. But “Rough Crossing,” audience response notwithstanding, falls short of the mark. This is amazing, considering the battery of talents on board. Based on a piece by the popular ‘20s playwright Ferenc Molnar, it features music by Andre Previn and lyrics by Stoppard himself, plus imaginative design work and solid performances.
The plot concerns a transatlantic journey aboard the SS Italian Castle, during which time a group of theater people work on a Broadway-bound musical. The playwrights Turai and Gal have yet to resolve a proper ending, while leading lady Natasha is embroiled in a three-way romance. She longs for the young composer, but is plagued by her former romance with her leading man. And the chorus wearily trips through its routine.
Such material has the making of farce, but the only truly hilarious shtick depends on the ship’s steward Dvornichek, who constantly brings Turai his requested cognacs, but drinks them himself. It all depends on the turn of phrase. Patrick Kerr is delicious in the role, compensating for all other lackluster moments.
The show’s other saving grace is the frequent lurching of the ship. At times the entire cast, and even the piano and the overhead chandelier, lurch back and forth on stage. Dvornichek, who is constantly lurching (probably because he is drinking Turai’s cognacs), is steady at such moments. The ship’s lurch, it seems, compensates for his lurch.
Reg Rogers and Greg Stuhr give fine performances as the manic playwrights, as do Sean Dugan (the stuttering young composer), Susannah Schulman as the luscious, emoting Natasha, and John G. Preston as her equally hammy leading man. Luke Brown’s ‘20s costumes are delightfully accurate, and Timothy R. Mackabee’s simple shipboard set works well for a lightweight tale. Director Mark Rucker keeps it all moving at a sprightly pace, and both he and Mackabee must be credited, presumably, for those highly effective lurches.
Too bad that Stoppard’s material is not up to these many admirable efforts.
-- -Irene Backalenick
December 14, 2008