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Rough Crossing: Farce or Menace?

Is Rough Crossing a farce?

What are the markings of a true farce? Well, that’s an excellent question. I think we have to use syndrome thinking here; of the n symptoms of farce syndrome, a play that exhibits all of them is clearly a farce, a play that exhibits none of them is clearly not a farce, and a play that exhibits, oh, two-thirds n of them is a farce, and a play that exhibits about half is a source of argument. So. What have we got? I think of a farce as having

  1. laughs
  2. repetition
  3. a fast pace
  4. disguises or misidentification of persons
  5. cross-talk (misidentification of subjects)
  6. overheard conversation
  7. coincidences
  8. repetition
  9. hiding, ideally multiple people behind multiple doors
  10. slapstick
  11. taboo-violation (violence, nudity, profanity, etc played for laughs)
  12. character types (the trickster or promiscuous servant, the doddering scholar, the lustful priest, the unfaithful wife, the innocent virgin, the separated twins, etc)
  13. repetition

Rough Crossing has some of those: it’s a fast-paced comedy with a lot of repetition and cross-talk, and the plot is driven by an overheard conversation. That’s four. On the other hand, everybody knows who everybody is, and nobody is mistaken for anyone else. Nobody wears a disguise. There is no nudity or even particularly revealing undress; there’s next to no profanity and there is no violence; to the extent that there is taboo-violation at all it consists of shouting a few relatively mild insults. There are some physical gags, verging on slapstick, but nobody even falls down. And I’m not actually clear to what extent the characters are character types; they are recognizable, but they are not written as types, confined to their type-actions. Even the servant character, is not so much a variation on the type as a… well, I’m not sure. Our Director calls Dvornichek a fool, which is not from the farce tradition at all, but also is not quite right, I think, as the purpose of the character is not truth-telling or trickery at all. I don’t know what the purpose of the character is, come to think of it. It’s a brilliant creation, a magnificent thing in itself, but it doesn’t move the plot along, or hinder it, or pass along messages (to the wrong people or with the wrong words) or otherwise do the things I would expect a servant type in a farce to do. So that’s four that are missing.

On the other hand, it’s a fast-paced comedy with a lot of repetition and cross-talk, and the plot is driven by an overheard conversation. That’s four. So I think this falls clearly into the subject of argument category.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


For me, one of the things that makes a farce a farce is a kind of humor-of-anticipation thing that comes from the audience knowing about the disguise, or the person hiding behind the door, or the fact that Bunbury doesn't exist, etc., when the characters don't (yet). Your play doesn't sound quite like a farce by that standard. I think to have a farce you need to have Anticipated Revelations.

College had at least 6 of those.

Jacob—I see what you mean about anticipation. One of the people who writes about Farce talks about the tension between anticipation and surprise, that the audience has to both know what is coming next and also be surprised by it when it happens (due to the timing, or a reversal, or some other cleverness). This show has that to some extent, but… in a way that probably should have its own note.

Michael—but you're counting repetition twice.


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