Tom Stoppard’s “Rough Crossing” Is a Backstage Farce Set on a Third-Rate, Shabby Ocean Liner

The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present "Rough Crossing" on March 23, 24, and 29-31 at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in Cary, NC (artwork by Ashley Huemmer)
The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present "Rough Crossing" on March 23, 24, and 29-31 at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in Cary, NC (artwork by Ashley Huemmer)

The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present "Rough Crossing" on March 23, 24, and 29-31 at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in Cary, NC (artwork by Ashley Huemmer)
The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will present "Rough Crossing" on March 23, 24, and 29-31 at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in Cary, NC (artwork by Ashley Huemmer)

The Free Association Theatre Ensemble will stage Sir Tom Stoppard’s zany 1985 farce, Rough Crossing, which the 74-year-old Czech-born British dramatist and screenwriter freely adapted from Play at the Castle by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár (1878-1952), at 8 p.m. on March 23, 24, and 29-31 in FATE’s performance space at 267 Grande Heights Dr. in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center in Cary, NC.

“I first heard about this show when I was teaching at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School,” recalls FATE founder and artistic director Julya M. Mirro. “I was looking for a show to do, and had purchased the script at a used-book store sometime prior.

“While researching shows that would be appropriate, yet challenging, for the students, I read Rough Crossing,” says Mirro. “I thought a farce was a great opportunity for students, and thought it would also be great fun to direct.”

She adds, “During the course of rehearsing the show at the school, we had to replace several actors; and then the week prior to opening, we had to pull the production. It was very disappointing to the students and the school, but I felt it was more important to do the show well, than to just put it up. Needless to say, it was a difficult situation, and I never forgot about working on it.

“[So, earlier this year, w]hen one of the leads in Stand-Up Tragedy [by Bill Cain] became very ill, the remaining cast members were still eager to participate in a show,” says Julya Mirro. “As it turns out, one of the members of Stand-Up Tragedy (Mark Taranto) had worked with me at the high school and suggested that we look at doing Rough Crossing. He was in the original cast at SRMHS, and reminded me that I said we would do it ‘some day’… and why not now? So, I took another look at it, and decided I could use the cast members of Stand-Up Tragedy who wanted to work on a new show, added a couple folks, and then an ensemble — and here we are!”

Mirro says, “It is also interesting to note that not only did Mark Taranto reprise his original role (Gal) in Rough Crossing from the high school production, but [so did] Catie Greijn (Dvornicheck), both three years later!”

She adds, “I love the text [of Rough Crossing]! I think that Tom Stoppard (best known for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead [1967] and Arcadia [1993]) has a wonderful sense of language and timing. In this show, he has a lot of great jokes that are all about the rhythm and pace of the speech. I also really appreciated that it is family-friendly, and evokes the sense of the great Katharine Hepburn/Jimmy Stewart/Cary Grant movies, with lots of playfulness!”

The "Rough Crossing" cast includes Stephen Wall as Turai and Noelle Barnard as Natasha (photo by Julya M. Mirro)
The "Rough Crossing" cast includes Stephen Wall as Turai and Noelle Barnard as Natasha (photo by Julya M. Mirro)

When the curtain rises on Rough Crossing, Julya Mirro says, “We are first introduced to Sandor Turai (played by Stephen Wall), a producer and passenger aboard the New York-bound SS Italian Castle. He is dumbfounded by Dvornicheck (Catie Greijn), presumably a steward, who cannot seem to procure a cognac into his hands.

“Then we meet Adam Adam (Ryan Huemmer) and Alex Gal (Mark Taranto), the composer and second producer of the trio; and we learn that the show they are expected to arrive with in New York is a dud — worse, its actors are in the middle of some sort of affair, which causes Adam Adam some distress, as he is engaged to marry the star of the stage, Natasha Navratalova (Noelle Barnard), who has been working with Ivor Fish (Jim Cox) for the last several years.”

Mirro says, “An overheard conversation, taken somewhat out of context, sends the trio (Turai, Adam, and Gal) into a tizzy, as they struggle to create a show which will heal the group, reunite Natasha with Adam, and produce an award winner in less than four days!

“Rounding out the cast, an ensemble boards the ship to offer some more family antics!” says Julya Mirro. “A Russian baker (Laura Arwood) keeps Dvornicheck in the loop; mother Belinda (Nicola Lefler) tries to rekindle a relationship with her party-girl daughter Stephanie (Tara Boldrin); Ivor’s wife Paloma (Jennifer Howard) boards, with her family — her child with Ivor (Steven Powell), and her three step-children (Jarrett Lefler, Michael Quint, Jillian Lefler), seeking out her husband and his errant ways; and the ship’s resident artist-in-[residence] (Ashley Huemmer), who is available for portraits and caricatures.”

Mirro claims, “The biggest challenge [in staging Rough Crossing] was making the set feel like a third-rate, shabby ship. The cast has been amazing in helping, with suggestions, work calls, and problem-solving.

“Another challenge was working out the timing in the course of the text,” says Mirro. “Stoppard’s words are often combined in such a way to make them difficult to say and the timing has to be perfect. Still, there are so many jokes, we are still getting them, this late in the process — and each new joke surprises us and makes us laugh, making this show a lot of fun to work on!”

In addition to director Julya Mirro, who co-designed the set with Leslie A. Pless and also serves as technical director and sound designer for the show, the Free Association Theatre Ensemble creative team for Rough Crossing includes lighting designer Michael Lefler; costume designer Alex Vandermaas-Peeler, with an assist from the cast; properties managers Ellen McCauley and Laura Arwood, and stage manager Ellen McCauley. Mirro says, “The cast created most of the tunes [in the show’s score], and the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme and ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ theme are also incorporated” into the soundtrack for Rough Crossing.

Mirro says, “The multilevel set [of Rough Crossing] portrays various rooms in the ship, including Turai’s cabin and balcony, Natasha’s balcony, the Pisa Room (for ‘rehearsals’), and ship’s bakery (which also serves as concession table). The balconies and doorframes are hung askew, depicting the shabby state of the ship.

“Opening up the set to the patrons, they will enter on the ‘dock,’ board the ship, and enjoy Act One in the ‘common area,’ Mirro explains. “After intermission, they will be invited into the Pisa Room to witness the rehearsal of the ‘new’ play The Cruise of the Dodo.”

She adds, “The use of practicals on set helps provide the sense of private areas on the ship, where a general wash is not utilized. Lighting is designed to create shadow for the areas which are private….

“We loosely set the show in the 1960s, and there is a period feel,” claims Mirro. “Costumes are a combination of ‘cruise’ attire and attire determined by ‘job’ (producers, actors, ship’s crew, etc.).

Director Julya Mirro notes, “This show is family-friendly, and is a wonderful combination of adult and youth actors. We are very excited to provide an environment for the patrons, and some opportunity for interaction/participation.

“Due to moving the patrons from one place to another during the production, seating is limited to 35 seats per performance, so reservations are highly recommended,” says Mirro.

The Free Association Theatre Ensemble presents ROUGH CROSSING at 8 p.m. March 23, 24, and 29-31 in their performance space at 267 Grande Heights Dr., Cary, North Carolina 27513, in the Harrison Pointe Shopping Center.

TICKETS: $15 ($10 students and educators, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919-228-8184 or





The Play: (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

The Playwright: (British Council) and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).