Friday's treat was opening night at the Dragon Theater in Palo Alto, a full house + 3 folding chairs. Rough Crossing
by Tom Stoppard is very entertaining, and director Dave Sikula did a brilliant job with it. The play is set on a steamship in the 30's sailing from Southampton to New York via Cherbourg. Turai (Steve Cortopassi) is a playwright whose leading man Adam (Jason Arias) has come down with a case of vocal block (it can take up to two days to get a sentence out) and has been replaced by Ivor (Noel Wood) who was the first lover of Adam's fiance Natasha (Monica Cappuccini). Adams stays on as the show's musical composer. The sometimes acid and usually verbose Turai is kept in check by his producer Gal (Magenta Brooks) and the whole lot is served by a steward named Dvornichek (Jonathan Ferro).
The first five minutes reminded me of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
by making us guess who the characters are, but eventually Dvornichek clears that all up with a monologue which sounds like it is pages and pages long, and clearly and concisely explains everything
which has happened, who everyone onstage (and off) is, and a few things which are likely to happen.
The show is fast-paced, lots of laughs, some very funny running gags, and even some alleged singing. From the director's notes, this was originally a musical, but was trimmed down to be a comedy with a little bit of music. Lisa Battista didn't have much to work with as musical director, but her piano playing from backstage was excellent.
Technical stuff: The set by Ron Gasparinetti is very clever, converting from two stateroom balconies to the inside of a stateroom via three minutes of cast-being-crew magic. Parts of the set are excellent, parts not so much. There are a lot of food props, and I thought the challah in Act II was out of character for the show, though pretty funny for a Friday night performance. Dragon head honcho Meredith Hagedorn did the props. Lighting was good, except for the little bit at the end which wasn't as much of a spotlight effect as I suspect the director was going for.
Acting stuff: Cortopassi played a very even tempered character with your standard American accent, and could not have been better at it. However, I would bet real cash dollars that the script calls for an Eastern European accent and corresponding bouts of shouting. Arias chose to play his part with a French accent. This made no sense for a character called Adam Adam, and the accent was very difficult to understand, which went a long way toward killing the role for me. He showed great talent with physical comedy, and due to his condition, we don't have to suffer through as much of the accent as we might have. Wood's Ivor was way over the top, and he changed accents a few times during the performance. He didn't seem to have a good handle on who is character is. But he put everything he had into it, which helped. I don't know what the script says about Natasha, but I'm guessing she ought to be 10 years younger than Cappuccini played her, and she ought to have a musicals-quality singing voice (as should Ivor and Adam - none of them do). Brooks, on the other hand, was her character, through and through, the smart 30's professional woman, right down to the wavy short hair, white silk blouse and maroon slacks. Cross Katherine Hepburn's no-nonsense confidence with Audrey Hepburn's elegance, and you're in the ballpark. I cannot say enough about how completely she fit the part. And stealing the show was Ferro, who successfully kept the steward in the neighborhood of a Dick Van Dyke comic character, where it could easily have fallen into the cesspool of Adam Sandler - Ben Stiller stupidity. My only criticism of his role is I thought a character named Dvornichek ought to have an Eastern European accent.
Bottom line: worth full price. It's a tiny theater, this show is going to sell out, so make reservations. It runs Thurs-Sat at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through August 3. July 27 features talk-back with the cast after the show. I may go to that one, to see how things have progressed since opening night. Click here
for the link.