First Folio turns on the farce for ‘Rough Crossing’

Take playwright Tom Stoppard’s brilliant wit and apply it liberally to a musical farce set in the 1930s aboard a transatlantic ship bound for New York. What you have is a “fun, fun show,” said First Folio Theatre’s artistic director Alison C. Vesely who directs “Rough Crossing,” opening Feb. 1 at Mayslake Peabody Estate.

“We have the most spectacular cast,” director Vesely said. Music director Christopher Kriz concurred. “It’s inspiring when you have a cast of performers that is that good,” he said.

That includes Gail Rastorfer as Natasha Navratilova.

“She is an international theater star,” Rastorfer said of her character. “I would call her a Hungarian Lynn Fontanne.” Although Rastorfer has done accents before, this is her first Hungarian one. “It’s kind of a weird combination of Eva Gabor meets Arianna Huffington,” the actor joked.

A true diva, Natasha is adored by men. “She’s highly sensual, witty and charming,” Rastorfer explained. Her conquests include her long-time leading man and one-time lover Ivor Fish. “It’s been over for quite some time,” Rastorfer related. “She met and fell in love with a man much younger than herself.” That’s Adam Adam, a composer who is working on a new show for Natasha and Ivan with two onboard playwrights.

Adam is “a theatrical genius and she is besotted with him. But things get interesting when Ivor comes back into the picture and she’s supposed to do a show with Ivor,” Rastorfer said.

That doesn’t please her new love, particularly since Adam is dealing with a problem of his own.

“He’s got a speech disability where he will think a thought but it’ll take a long time for the thought to get from his brain to his mouth,” said Alex Weisman, who plays Adam. “It leads to some very tricky conversations. It gets worse and worse the more stressed out he gets.”

Developing that speech pattern has been “incredibly difficult,” the actor admitted. “There are moments in the play where someone will ask me a question on one page and it’ll take me two-and-a-half pages before I respond. And the action of the play keeps going.”

This is both Weisman’s first Tom Stoppard play and his first farce, and he’s loving it. “As a company, we’re having a tremendous amount of fun during rehearsals,” he said.

Rastorfer praised the style of the show. “It’s really reminiscent to me of the films of the ‘30s that were lush and dashing — and wacky, too. Kind of smart, witty and biting,” she said.

“It’s a true comedy of errors written by one of the masters of language,” Weisman added.

The ever-creative First Folio folks have added a couple of other elements to increase the audience’s enjoyment of the show.

Jeff Award-winner Kriz composed three songs to Stoppard’s lyrics. Vesely noted that Andre Previn’s original music was “not very memorable.” On the other hand, with Kriz’s songs, she said, “I can’t get the music out of my head.”

Kriz admitted that he also has those songs hanging around in his head. He has written music for other First Folio plays, “But being able to write original songs is a lot of fun. And the lyrics of Tom Stoppard are not too shabby.”

Another production highlight is Angela Weber Miller’s clever set design. She created a two-story ship deck that moves. “It’s probably one of the most ambitious set designs we’ve ever attempted,” Vesely noted.

‘Rough Crossing’ Feb. 1-March 3 First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook $26-$37, $22 for preview (630) 986-8067; www.firstfolio.org

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