The song that ends the first act of a Broadway musical is traditionally a key moment in the development of the show’s story. In Rough Crossing, Tom Stoppard’s antic meditation on musicals, the first act ends with this type of big number, and the question it asks is one an audience is likely to be asking as well: “Where do we go from here?” Director Rick Mokler has assembled a wonderful cast, and Tal Sanders has created a gorgeous and memorable set, but Tom Stoppard this time seems overwhelmed with options, and Crossing, while consistently entertaining, doesn’t finally dock anywhere. That may be the point, but with Stoppard one expects more.
Tony Miratti brings equal parts depth and wit to the role of Sandor Turai, the writer/producer of the play within the play, and Jon Koons is also marvelous as his business partner, Alex Gal. The two manage the ever-shifting complications of the plot with zany enthusiasm, and they truly shine when either dancing or physical comedy are called for. Speaking of slapstick, Santa Barbara’s current top comic actor, Ed Lee, gets a choice turn here as Dvornichek, the sublimely absurd ship’s porter. As Natasha, the leading lady, Julie Ann Ruggieri makes a believable cause for the jealousy that erupts in her fiance, composer Adam Adam (Devin Scott), over a past liaison with her leading man, Ivor Fish (Jon Zuber).
The metaphor of a show as a kind of ocean liner makes a certain sense. They both move inexorably toward their destinations while the people on board do their best to sort things out before arrival, they can feel alternately spacious and luxurious or cramped and spartan, and the voyage can be serenely pleasurable or positively rough, as this play’s title would have it. One successful sequence does in fact involve rough seas, and the contrivance through which the entire large set is seemingly put in motion is the night’s most delightful surprise.
Stoppard’s much-vaunted wordplay makes great demands on the actors all around. Devin Scott delivers his lines with some radical time shifts that work to excellent comic effect. Jon Zuber and Julie Ann Ruggieri have a great rehearsal scene in which the play’s most powerful emotional effects are created. And the finale, which involves the Ship’s Belles, a chorus line resplendent in Mary Gibson’s terrific period costumes, gives everyone a chance to display their sophistication as dancers. A Stoppard play with dancing is already a novelty, but if, for instance, the play’s historical setting in the 1930s had been fully developed, it might have been something more