Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bag&Baggage Braves The Storm

The cast of Rough Crossing at Bag&Baggage Productions

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage is currently offering Rough Crossing, a somewhat absurdist farce by British playwright Tom Stoppard. Adapted from two previous works, Ferenc Molnar’s Play at the Castle and P. G. Wodehouse’s The Play’s the Thing, Rough Crossing is packed full of witty dialogue and physical comedy that never quite makes the transition from “charming” to “hilarious,” despite the best efforts of director Scott Palmer and a superb cast.

Set in the 1930s on the S.S. Italian Castle, a transatlantic liner bound for New York, Rough Crossing tells the story of a pair of famous playwrights trying to finish their new show before its Broadway debut. Complications include a traumatized composer with serious mommy issues, his fiancée’s questionable (okay, compromised) fidelity, an inept but mysteriously omniscient cabin steward with a taste for the passengers’ cognac, an obsessively amorous leading man, a storm at sea, and a brace of amateurs seeking to foist their scripts on the playwrights. Author Stoppard, in deliberate parody of the genre’s stylistic antecedents, has included almost every conceivable cliché.

The show is not really a musical – rather, it is a play about the development of a musical – but it still requires competent singers.  The six-member cast is more than equal to the task; their solos, a cappella work, and harmonies deliver some of the show’s best moments.

Adam Syron and Norman Wilson portray Sandor Turai and Alex Gal, the playwrights who, despite (or because of) their different personalities have successfully churned out a stream of popular fluff. Turai is the nervous member of the team, afflicted with verbal diarrhea that presumably permeates his writing style. Syron brings an over-the-top melodramatic energy that is perfect for the part. Gal is a study in contradiction – his role is to provide the restraint necessary to counterbalance Turai’s excess, yet he eats (healthily) incessantly and obsessively. Wilson nails it, and delivers perhaps the strongest performance of the show – but he gets powerful competition from cabin steward Dvornichek (Ian Armstrong). Armstrong smoothly navigates his character’s accent(s) and personality changes, and brings surprising comedic subtlety to the running joke of his cognac filching.

The aging leading man, Ivor Fish, proves that even before Viagra there was no shortage of dirty old men. Peter Schuyler plays the role with a mockingly lustful ennui that nicely captures the oily essence of this Svengali wannabe. His rival for the hand(?) of the fair maiden is fiancé/composer Adam Adam, played by Benjamin Farmer. Farmer gets two of the best laughs of the evening in one particularly funny scene – you’ll have to see the show to find out how he elevates “Timing” and “They did” into heavy-duty punch lines. The aforementioned fair maiden is Natasha Navratilova, played with consistent dynamism by Megan Carver. Her high energy and solid soprano during the musical numbers nicely complement the deliberate triteness of the lyrics and melody.

The set, while relatively simple, is striking enough that we kept expecting Reno Sweeney to come strutting down the staircase – Cole Porter would have loved it! The costumes are appropriate to the period and add to the elegant ‘30s ambience.

Bag&Baggage presents Rough Crossing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through May 26th.

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