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Piccolo Theatre’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rough Crossing,” a semi-absurdist comedy/musical, joyously bounds full-steam ahead.
Set in the Roaring Twenties, the play tells the tale of Turai (Mark Sharp) and Gal (Glenn Proud), two fledgling playwrights, desperately trying to complete a script before their cruise ship returns to New York. Aside from a rapidly approaching deadline and a dreadful, dead-end story, they must deal with haughty actors Ivor (David W.M. Kelch) and Natasha (Denita Linnertz), who is engaged to the show’s sensitive composer, Adam (Ryan Hutton).
When the three collaborators witness Natasha and Gal speaking of an intimate past and sharing a moonlit kiss on her balcony, Adam is heartbroken, and the play is on the brink of disaster. Turai lies to Adam, insisting that what Adam saw were merely two actors rehearsing a scene from the play. Turai is then forced to add an unwanted wrinkle to the already convoluted play.
Holding things together is the ship’s steward, Dvornicheck (the always-funny Deborah Craft steals the show), who may not know a stern from a bow, but has a way with storytelling that keeps the sinking play-within-a-play from capsizing. Her performance is further elevated by the fact that Dvornicheck has no sea legs, so Ms. Craft is constantly swaying while talking, walking and serving drinks (mostly to herself).
Scene designers Anders Jacobsen and Judy Radovsky maximize the Piccolo’s intimate space, creating a cruise deck with railings that run from one end of the room to the other.
In “Rough Crossing,” Mr. Stoppard relishes manipulation of the English language, foreign dialects and double entendre. Understanding of the kind of comedy the audience is in for comes quickly when Ivor spouts, “Last night when I kissed you on the poop …” That said, the production is perfect for the Piccolo, whose members are adept at performing shows that are absurd, funny and bawdy.
Original music for “Rough Crossing” also showcases the delightful voice of the beautiful Ms. Linnertz and a wonderful singing chorus composed of Carolyn Ewald, Nick Heggestad and Laura Taylor, who earn their keep in song and dance routines and serve as deck mates for the play by altering the set between scenes through their numbers, and continuing their roles through intermission.
Director Zachary Davis should be commended for successfully blocking fairly elaborate movement on such a narrow stage. His actors also keep the show popping, with crisply delivered one-liners and an infectious zeal. A cast less adept at the broad comedy of Mr. Stoppard’s play might be set adrift during the play-within-a-play expositions, but this is what the Piccolo’s ensemble cast revels in, and the proof is evident on the stage.
“Rough Crossing” runs through Saturday, May 30, at the Piccolo Theatre’s home at the Evanston Arts Depot,600 Main Street
, in the Main Street Metra
Station. Tickets run $15-$25. For tickets, call 847-424-0089.