The Public Theatre in May will present a crowd-pleasing screwball comedy, an enlarged stage and a silent auction in its Lewiston lobby.

Tom Stoppard’s comic romp “Rough Crossing” will open May 6 and will run through May 15. Director Janet Mitchko said it’s filled with outrageous characters, razor-sharp wit and ridiculous situations.

Two actors, two playwrights and one speech-impaired composer board a luxurious cruise ship in the 1930s and set sail for Broadway. With four days to rewrite the ending of their new musical comedy (as well as the beginning and the middle), this eccentric bunch of theater types find themselves hilariously “at sea.”

Among the characters are “a mad professor type, a goofy waiter, a leading man who’s past his prime, and a Hungarian starlet,” Mitchko said.

Returning to The Public Theatre as arrogant playwright Sandor Turai is TPT comic veteran David Davalos. TPT audiences will remember Davalos as the hard-boiled detective and hilarious Irish priest in “Red Herring,” as well as the accident-prone Carter in “Gun-Shy.”

Paired with Davalos as his wisecracking writing partner Gal is Laura Poe in her first appearance at The Public Theatre. Poe was Harrison Ford’s wife in the movie “Arlington Road” and her new stage comedy, “Mothers of Invention,” premieres this summer in New York City.

Mitchko said Gal, Poe’s character in “Rough Crossing,” was written as a man’s role by Stoppard, but Mitchko is making it a female part on The Public Theatre stage because she likes the opportunity it allows for some apt exchanges with Davalos’ character.

Also making their TPT debuts are J.T. O’Connor and Robyne Parrish as the spoiled divas Ivor Fish and Natasha Navratilova.

O’Connor recently played Charles in “High Spirits” in Florida and was the stand-in for Will Ferrell in the movie version of “The Producers.”

Rounding out this comic cast of characters will be Dan Schultz as speech-impaired composer Adam Adam, and Jonathan Fielding as the overeager cabin steward Dvornichek.

Fielding recently appeared in “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Kevin Kline, while Schultz cut his comic teeth on “Saturday Night Live” and “Comedy Central.”

Mitchko said “Rough Crossing” has all the goofiness of the Marx Brother and the snappiness of “His Girl Friday,” which, under Howard Hawks’ direction, was one of the incarnations of “The Front Page.”

Stoppard’s first major success as a playwright came with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” (1966). It told the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the viewpoint of two minor characters and catapulted Stoppard to the top ranks of modern dramatists. He won an Oscar in 1998 for co-authoring the screenplay for “Shakespeare in Love.”

“Rough Crossing” is based on Molnar’s “Play at the Castle.” P.G. Wodehouse adapted Molnar’s play for the English stage as “The Play’s the Thing.” Stoppard’s version has a lot of the madcap action that delights audiences in plays like “Lend Me a Tenor,” Mitchko said.

TPT’s patrons will be treated to a special set on a bigger stage, the result of an ongoing renovation project. Recent construction at the theater eliminated stairs at the side of the stage and allowed TPT to stretch the stage from one wall to the other for a complete proscenium framed on sides and top.

“This set is huge, and it’s one of the prettiest we have ever had,” Mitchko said. It’s a cruise ship and it revolves to reveal the interior, as well as a third scene, she explained.

The design team for “Rough Crossing” includes Bart Garvey, lighting; Michael Reidy, set; and Kathleen Brown, costumes.

The May performance dates also mark TPT’s annual silent auction fund-raising event. Dozens of items from food to art will be displayed in the lobby with forms for bids to be entered throughout the show’s run.

Performances will be May 6-8 and 12-15. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and students. Group rates are available.

The Public Theatre is located at Lisbon and Maple Streets. For tickets, call 782-3200.


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