By now, ‘Rough Crossing’ should be smooth sailing

Island Theatre troupe marks 10 years in the act.

Ten years later, the play is still the thing.

Island Theatre opened with the 1926 P.G. Wodehouse comedy “The Play’s the Thing” in 1994 and the company celebrates the anniversary on April 17 with Tom Stoppard’s updated version of the work – and a renewed dedication to the founders’ vision.

Island Theatre began when a group of thespians and friends were assembled by drama doyenne Louise Mills to put on the play.

“We had an auspicious beginning with Louise Mills, the instigator,” said founding board member Kate Carruthers. “The response to ‘The Play’s the Thing’ was pretty extraordinary.

“We thought, ‘Gee, that was so much fun. maybe we ought to do this again.’ And the spirit of how we started has remained really important to us, which was having a great time.”

The upcoming production is part reunion, with original cast members like Bob Cederwall and Steve Stolee playing parts and Carruthers directing. The seasoned cast makes the most of the Stoppard romp “Rough Crossing,” featuring comically tangled personal relationships that play out aboard an ocean liner, and a plot that moves full steam ahead, powered by Stoppard’s signature word play.

The upcoming performance is a staged reading, a form in which Island Theatre excels.

Focusing on the play rather than the venue has been a consistent part of the company’s culture.

“We were convinced from the start that we didn’t need a space,” Carruthers said. “There were places to perform.”

Early Island Theatre productions were fully staged at Bainbridge High School, Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Commons and the Boundy Barn, among others.

The group swiftly arrived at a streamlined, unique method of augmenting an annual full-scale show with monthly staged readings, held first in private homes and then at Bainbridge Public Library.

The pared-down productions freed the group to focus on content, Stolee points out, affording the company the chance to look at a work in depth.

“There would be no auditions because that would hold things up,” he said. “Anything that would slow the act down was just deleted.”

Active Island Theatre members are tapped to take charge of a play of their choosing – casting, directing, and doing all the ancillary work needed to bring the event to an audience.

That cadre of member-directors includes Tel Schreiber, Ken Enright, Fred Saas, Keri Hadfield, Nina Echols, Bonnie Showers and noted island actor Frank Buxton, whose series “On the Air: The Golden Age of Radio” was written for the group.

Recently, the company collaborated with Bainbridge Performing Arts to bring “More Fun than Bowling” and “Inspecting Carol” to audiences, and worked with Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council to create “Dear Editor,” a reading of letters to the Bainbridge Island Review, for BIAHC’s recent inquiry on media.

Island Theatre and BIAHC also host six “potluck play readings” a year – evenings in private homes with the public invited to read parts with the company.

After a decade, the group’s founding board remains largely intact.

“A lot of the people who were involved in the beginning still are,” Carruthers said. “Not that every one of us does everything, but we still have the same spirit; we have no prima donnas.”

* * * * *

Island Theatre presents “Rough Crossing” Tom Stoppard’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse, 7:30 p.m. April 17 at Bainbridge Public Library.

Directed by Kate Carruthers, the performance stars Frank Buxton, Bob Cederwall, Tim Davidson, Steve Parsons, Linda Sterling and Stephen M. Stolee. Free admission. Call 842-1301 for more information.

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