Theater preview: Rough Crossing at SBCC

ONSTAGE: Smooth sailing from here – ‘Rough Crossing’ closes season with a farce on the high seas
July 6, 2007 8:02 AM
In his rehearsals, director Rick Mokler is having a Tom Stoppard, life-imitating-art moment. The second half of “Rough Crossing,” Stoppard’s farce set onboard a transatlantic cruise ship, plunges the action into stormy seas, a moment when all the technical stage wizardry afforded by the Garvin Theatre will come into play. And midway through rehearsals is exactly when things get tough: The actors go off-book and Mokler starts to run through the technical aspects of the show.
“The challenges are all about precision,” he says about the production, which previews Wednesday, and will cap SBCC’s season. “We have incredible speeches, and it’s all about the timing. Coupled with that, we have six primary actors and eight dancers, and they all have to move in the same direction.”
That is, Mokler says, when the ship hits rough waters. It will look a bit, one imagines, like the moments in “Star Trek” when the bridge is under fire, but much, much better.
“We have a horizon line that goes up and down outside the window, wall sconces tipping one way and then the other and a tray on top of a piano that keeps moving,” he says.
Audience members might want to pop a Dramamine before the show.

As captain of this particular ship, though, Mokler is calm and confident. He has done big, complicated shows, and he knows exactly how to steer.
For those used to the Stoppard of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Rough Crossing” might come as a surprise. Dating to 1985, the play is a free adaptation of Ferenc Molnar’s “Play at the Castle.” Tony Miratti and Jon Koons take on the roles of playwrights Turai and Gal, who are trying to finish a work on a ship to New York City in time for a premiere.
Also onboard: their songwriter, Adam (Devin Scott), their — and Adam’s — leading lady, Natasha (Julie Anne Ruggieri), and an aging matinee idol, Ivor (Jon Zuber), who also loves Natasha. Dvornichek (Edward Lee), the cabin steward, navigates around these characters on less than sturdy sea legs.
Most of the cast has worked with Mokler, though none as much as Koons. The actor, who can be relied on for his comic timing and who Miratti lovingly calls “insane,” first studied with the director when he was in eighth grade.
“With Rick, he lets you find your character yourself,” Koons says. “He doesn’t micromanage, and he doesn’t tell you how to read lines.”
Miratti, whose credits shared with Mokler go back nearly 20 years, agrees. “He knows timing,” Miratti says. “I put myself completely in his hands, because Rick knows what looks good.”
By this time, Miratti says he often knows intuitively what Mokler will ask for. “We have the same sense of humor.”
About the cast, Mokler says, “These some of the funniest people in Santa Barbara.”
Lee and Scott recently appeared in Mokler’s “The Foreigner,” and the director once again uses Lee’s ability to “completely play things straight and deadpan” to full effect. Scott is “dry . . . crisp. He’s very economical onstage, and nothing is wasted.”
Of Ruggieri, who can do knockabout comedy as well as drama, Mokler says she can hold her own “onstage with five men. She sings beautifully as well.”
“And Jon Zuber is the best surprise here,” he says. “He has to play both debonair and doofus, and he’s found the balance.”
This is SBCC Theatre Group’s penultimate season before the Garvin and Jurkowitz close down for a yearlong major renovation. Attendance is up, as are season tickets. But for now, it’s time to catch the last boat out of town.
When: Previews 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, July 13 through July 28; 2 p.m. matinee Sunday July 15 and 22
Where: Garvin Theatre, West Campus, City College
Cost: $14 to $21, discounts for students, seniors, groups
Tickets: 965-5935,

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