Rough Crossing, Writer’s Theatre. Tom Stoppard double-crosses the audience in this flamboyant 1985 adaptation of Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar’s 1924 The Play’s the Thing. A pastiche of low comedy styles jumbled together with egghead observations, Stoppard’s script is part Rodgers and Hart musical comedy, part slapstick farce, and part metatheatrical exploration of reality and fiction. Yet Rough Crossing, about two writers on an ocean liner, never really bridges the gap between light entertainment and intellectual confrontation: physical comedy constantly undercuts the smart stuff while unnecessarily florid dialogue gets in the way of some impish fun. The result suggests a dismal failure of Stoppard’s own imagination.

Still, it’s easy to see why director Michael Halberstam was attracted to the script: it’s chock-full of meaty roles, including a composer with a speech impediment that delays his responses in conversation, an ingratiating Jeeves-esque steward with a drinking problem, and the two playwrights, who are so accustomed to each other’s habits they act like a married couple. Among the jocular performers who capture their characters in brilliant detail, Gregory Isaac excels as lovelorn composer Adam Adam while Sean Fortunato anchors the production with his off-kilter, very physical take on the steward. Their comic skills add all sorts of ripples to the static script–a human element otherwise lacking in this exquisitely rendered museum piece.