By Donald Margulies at 59E59 Theaters – Primary Stages
If you love dogs, as I do, you will want to adopt Bruno – the dog portrayed by the most clever and versatile Jeremy Bobb in Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The amazing adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself) a “rip roaring yarn” that has just opened at Primary Stages. Whether Bruno is yelping or yowling or licking or wagging or cuddling or paddling or growling with jealousy, Mr. Bobb brings Bruno to vivid life and when it’s time for him to go in his sleep we are touched beyond words and actually miss the dear critter. Amazing.
Mr. Bobb is not limited to his duties as a dog. He portrays a whole slew of other characters – an Aborigine, Albert- a young boy, a Lady at Tea, a newsboy, among others including a wickedly funny Queen Victoria in this telling of the “every word is true” life story of Louis de Rougemont who is played with fierce bravado by the ultra charming Michael Countryman who could tell you just about anything and you would believe him. And he does as Louis de Rougemont in this “are you ready to be astonished” telling of his journey from London to see the world and his amazing bouts with pirates, shipwrecks, black pearls, riding aback sea turtles, celebrity and ruination. Mr. Countryman gives a captivating, astonishingly athletic and touching performance.
It is an interesting if sometimes padded and predictable tale that left England spellbound in the 19th century. Donald Margulies has fashioned a narrative for a bare bones production – going back to the basics of theatrical storytelling – to strip the stage of scenery and overwrought effects so that an audience “of all ages” (preferably over nine and under ninety) will use its imagination with the help of simple props and pieces of costume to bring to life – for example – a monumental tempest and whirlpool that mesmerizes the audience solely with light and sound. The source of the sound effects are in full sight and part of the wonderful process of entertaining the audience.
The third person in this remarkable production is Donnetta Lavinia Grays – also required to become multiple personalities. She does so with the greatest of ease – the mother of Louis one moment then a Pirate Captain the next, followed by an Aborigine wild woman who becomes romantically involved with Louis despite not understanding English – which Mr. Margulies takes care of rather rapidly and with great fun.
Director Lisa Peterson is at the helm and does a terrific job of keeping the action flowing, the characters changing accents in check and Louis centered – sometimes telling us, overly dramatically, sometimes with a wink what is happening. Chapter by chapter. A little trimming would be welcomed.
As it turns out Louis wasn’t telling the truth. Does it matter when the ultimate outcome is so engaging? Was it worth ruining a man’s life because he told elaborate “stories” or “lies” as his detractors said he had done? Well, lying to the public does have its consequences. A valuable lesson to be learned despite all the fun.
A potpourri of historical facts, a steamer trunk full of theatrical tricks and some fanciful fiction make Shipwrecked! extremely seaworthy. Through March 7th.
Primary Stages offers family priced tickets at $35.00 for Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday Matinees (Code-KIDM) and $25.00 for Friday & Saturday nights (Code:KIDE)
www.primarystages.org Photo: James Leynse