1920s farce features complex stage design

by: COURTESY PHOTO: CASEY CAMPBELL AND BAG&BAGGAGE PRODUCTIONS - Megan Carver, playing Natasha, and Benjamin Farmer, playing Adam, serenade the crowd in the 1920s-style farce on the high seas.Though Bag&Baggage Productions is known for its innovative twists and adaptations on classic scripts, the final show in its fifth season is pushing the limits in another area: set design.

“Rough Crossing,” a high-seas 1920s-style farce takes place on the deck of a trans-Atlantic ocean liner during the first act, then uses the 15-minute intermission to switch to the interior ballroom of the ship in the second.

Set designer and Oregon State University faculty member George Caldwell needed “a pure stroke of genius” to solve that problem—and got it, said director Scott Palmer. “He has created a Transformer-set. Basically, the set is like a piece of origami; it unfolds, moves, stretches and expands.”

What appears to be two stairways and a balcony in the first half of the play will unfold into the walls and curtains of a ballroom in the second act.

With the shape-shifting contraption in place, the stage is set for the hilarity of “Rough Crossing,” which follows the famous playwriting team of Turai and Gal as they head toward New York, under deadline to complete the final act of their latest play. Their young composer and protégé, Adam Adam, is distracted by his fiancée, Natasha Navratilova, as she’s just rekindled a romance with former boyfriend and current co-star Ivor Fish.

The central tension revolves around whether or not Turai and Gal will finish their play amid all the chaos.

The script is playwright Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of “The Play at the Castle” by Ferenc Molnar.

“Stoppard is one of the very best, and very funniest, British writers in generations, and “Rough Crossing” is really a showcase for Stoppard’s wit and sense of humor,” Palmer said.

“Rough Crossing” will also incorporate musical numbers — but it’s not a musical.

“This play is a bit different than a ‘musical,’ because it is titled ‘a play with music’ and only has three songs,” explained Megan Carver, who plays Natasha.

“It certainly is different from anything Bag&Baggage has done before, said Norman Wilson, who plays Gal.

To get into character for the 1920s throwback, “We have been listening to old clips of Noel Coward,” said Norman Wilson, who plays Gal. “That clipped, insouciant delivery gives us a really good model of the style we want.”

Peter Schuyler, who plays Ivor, is studying the speaking styles of Laurence Olivier and other matinee idols.

“We’re in the 1920s, and all of the characters are very wealthy and some ... are out-and-out snobs,” he said.

Costume designer Melissa Heller designed a dress specifically for Carver, to evoke Carver’s upper-class persona. “Think flapper dresses, finger waves and a lot of eye shadow,” Carver said.

Adam Syron, who plays Turai, said he’s donned his own three-piece suit during rehearsals to get a sense of how it feels to be so consistently well-dressed.

“If you ever want to feel like you belong in the upper crust of society, I’d suggest wearing a suit to the 7-11 an hour before rehearsal,” he quipped.

High schoolers see show for free

In 2009, a group of students from Glencoe High School approached Bag&Baggage Productions in Hillsboro to ask if they could sit in on a dress rehearsal, saying they couldn’t afford to attend regular performances.

Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer worried that an entire generation of local high-schoolers would graduate without ever experiencing live, professional theater. Palmer, an alumnus of Hilhi, remembers a school outing to see Shakespeare performed in Ashland.

“That trip changed my life,” said Palmer.

The Hillsboro-based theater company’s board came up with the innovative but simple “TEN4ONE” program, which lets high-school students come to the box office the day of a performance, show their student IDs — and get in free if there’s an empty seat.

Standard Insurance and the PGE Foundation fund the program, which is currently limited to 11 participating schools, including those from Hillsboro, Banks and Forest Grove.

But the PGE Foundation recently added $7,500 more, so when the 2013-14 season begins next fall, students from every high school in Washington County will be eligible.

“The program allows me to see quality theater on a regular basis,” said Devon Roberts, a senior at Glencoe. “It has inspired me to think outside of the conventional and think more abstractly, re-imagine old things in a brilliant new way, and to always be truthful.”

The TEN4ONE program also offers curriculum guides so teachers can incorporate the productions into their classrooms.

“What we know about students who are involved in performing arts, and theater specifically, is that they are more likely to graduate, perform better on standardized tests, [and] are more likely to go to college,” said Palmer.

“I’ve seen its impact on my classmates,” added Anni Reilly, a 2012 Glencoe graduate. “The radiant face of a theater-loving freshman who’s never seen a play and who’s just been given a ticket always reminds me of why B&B is so inspirational for our community.”

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