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Photograph by Benjamin Brotzman
LIVESAVER: Jonathan Shue hangs on for dear life in 'Rough Crossing.'

I'm on a Boat

California Theatre Center steams ahead withnew production of 'Rough Crossing'

By Jessica Fromm

A TRIBUTE to the screwball romantic comedies of the Depression era, California Theatre Center's Rough Crossing is a light-hearted farce in which verbal jousting and linguistic fireworks reign supreme, despite of a less than perfect script. One of playwright Tom Stoppard's more frivolous offerings, the famed dramatist's well-known political and reflective themes give way to absurdist humor and playful ongoing jokes in this piece. Set onboard an ocean liner bound for New York, this play-within-a-play focuses on two Broadway playwrights toiling to complete a musical and rehearse it before their ship docks. The rotund playwright Turai (Charlie Shoemaker) acts as a center of the action, a befuddled and occasionally crafty man who manipulates the other characters to benefit the future of his theater career.

Actor Jake Beamer gives Turai's collaborator, Gal, a sarcastic, limp-wristed air, a man more concerned with what is on the buffet menu than how his play is turning out. Beamer had the best comic timing of the bunch on opening night, delivering one-liners and sashaying around the stage shoving cold cuts into his mouth to humorous effect. Joining the duo on their way to the Big Apple is the stuttering French composer Adam (Jonathan Shue), his fiance Natasha (Maegan McNerney), the aging blonde starlet of the unfinished production, and egotistical veteran actor Ivor (Chris Mahle).

Trouble ensues when the playwrights and Adam board the ship earlier then expected. They mistakenly eavesdrop on Natasha and Ivor canoodling in her suite, causing Adam to pack his bags to leave in heartbreak. In an effort to save the couple's love (and his production,) Turai decides to write their overheard romantic exchange into his unfinished script, in an effort to convince Adam to stay. Dvornichek (Will Huddleston), the drunkenly inept waiter, was a crowd favorite with his fumbling gate and enthusiastic imbibement of other people's liquor. Weaving around the set, he got the most enjoyable scenes of the production, his manner at times clumsy, and at times brilliant, but always giggle-inducing.

The action takes place onboard the "SS Italian Castle" (an homage to The Play at the Castle by Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnár, from which Rough Crossing was adapted), and the small set is simple and nautically themed, with one whitewashed stage area and a central balcony, both accessed by doors and adorned with portholes. Under director Gayle Cornelison's eye, the dialogue is for the most part light and fast-paced, with the actors performing their lines with enthusiasm even when the humor is sometimes lacking. In the scenes where the group practices the unfinished play-within-a-play, the joke is supposed to be that the production is so bad it's funny. However, that gag grows old fast, and the audience is left waiting for the punch line for 40 minutes. Though the story is charming enough, it is entirely predictable, and the inherent silliness of the script became boring after intermission as the production skidded toward its expected happy song-and-dance ending. This production kicks off CTC's annual summer repertory season, which this year also features The Importance of Being Earnest (opening June 12), Dracula (opening June 26) and Brave Irene (June 20 and 27).

ROUGH CROSSING, a California Theatre Center production, plays June 19 and July 2, 10, 11 and 23 at 7:30pm and June 28 and July 19 at 3pm at the Sunnyvale Theatre at 550 E. Remington Drive, Sunnyvale. Tickets are $12–$20. (408.720.0873).

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