Tom Stoppard, a playwright renowned for hyper-intelligent, devastatingly literate and witty dialogue, goes a bit low brow with “Rough Crossing.” The result, in First Folio’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 knuckle-headed 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, ascot tied at a 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 dimwitted 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) isn’t as important as the urgent nonsense among the various passengers. By the time one arrives at McKillip’s eye-crossing explanatory monologue about white slavery, transcontinental emerald thieves, long lost relatives, star-crossed lovers and a pair of ocean liners named either Dodo and Emu or Dido and Aeneus, it’s become quite clear that the plot isn’t, and moreover, that it doesn’t matter.
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 two-fold: 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 set-up. The execution is laugh-out-loud hysterical, completely ludicrous and often absolutely stupid in the best possible sense. Listen for Ruelas to stops the show twice: Once with a zinger about the manners of women 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.