Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - Shipwrecked! An EntertainmentTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published February 13, 2009


Shipwrecked! An Entertainment

now playing Off Broadway at 59E59 Theater A*

through March 7, 2009


Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Donald Margulies, one of our most accomplished playwrights, has given up playwriting for (hopefully) one brief shining moment in order to dabble in the ancient art of storytelling. His new theater piece, with the deliciously self-conscious title Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself), imagines an old barnstorming event in which a real-life hero, with the aid of a couple of assistants and a few handy props, travels the continent, telling his tales of derring-do to teddibly thrilled audiences. This, to Margulies, is what the old serials were to Steven Spielberg, and we all know what Spielberg did to recreate that old magic. But the adventures of Louis de Rougemont were culled by Margulies from a book called Imposters, and so the mystery of whether de Rougemont was making it all up or telling the unvarnished truth – a subject that might have held an adult audience in thrall – is a mystery that Margulies isn’t concerned with at all. So what, the playwright is telling us, if de Rougemont was a carny fake? As long as the story he has to tell is a corker of death-defying proportions! And, perhaps, it is not an adult audience Margulies is after. Maybe it was designed for wide-eyed young boys (and girls) – our future theater-goers – to immerse them in the kind of “entertainment” that their great-great grandparents used to love and, at the same time, point the way to a different kind of theater and its myriad possibilities.


picture - Shipwrecked! An EntertainmentThe result, unfortunately, is neither fish nor fowl, not sophisticated enough for the adults in the audience, and perhaps a tad dry for the younger members of the audience, for whom this kind of fun should have provided pure catnip. But Shipwrecked! is what it is, and, as theater, it is a dandy enough, frequently beguiling ninety minutes, even if it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights it was aiming for. Lisa Peterson, the nimble director in charge of the proceedings, handsomely recreates the kind of makeshift theater the event must have taken place in and takes great pleasure in awakening us to the kind of innocent mechanical ingenuity that was part and parcel of that era. The fact that de Rougemont actually rides around on a giant toy turtle should give you a rough idea of the kind of silly magic Margulies and Peterson have up their sleeves.


Michael Countryman is a fine choice for de Rougemont with his hearty rhetoric and for the delight he takes in telling a story and, best of all, for being just self-effacing enough so that the wild tales he spins and weaves – of being shipwrecked on an exotic island and other romances on the high seas – sound as if they just possibly may have taken place. But it is his cohorts in storytelling – though they utter hardly a word – who are at the heart of the evening’s charms. She is Donnetta Lavinia Grays and he is Jeremy Bobb and they seem to be able to do anything and everything, but are most adept at creating wonderful miniatures of character. And Bobb is just about the most adorably puppyish faithful servant you’ve ever encountered; he’s the dog I would want by my side on a deserted island or in a theater. And his Queen Victoria as played by Toulouse-Lautrec is an inspired sight gag.  In fact, I am so captivated by so much of what Shipwrecked! is that I wish I liked it more. 


harveyperr @


*editor’s note:  there are two additional productions of the play Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (by different companies) overlapping the New York production:  it is currently running at the Actors Theater in Louisville, Kentucky through February 28; and runs February 18 – March 15 at the North Coast Repertory Theater in the San Diego area.


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