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!