BWW Reviews: Seeing Is Not Always Believing with CATCO's SHIPWRECKED!
Donald Marguiles' well-crafted Off-Broadway play brings the real historical figure of Louis de Rougemonte to life on CATCO's Riffe Center stage. De Rougemont famously published his phenomenal tale in 10 installments to The Wide World Magazine in 1899. DeRougemont described his account of going from a sickly child, bedridden in London, to leaving home at 16 in search of adventure, to becoming a crew member on a pearl-seeking pirate ship, to being shipwrecked in the Coral Sea, marrying an Aborigine, and returning to civilization some 30 years later. It sold over a half million copies, and became as eagerly anticipated in its time as any tv miniseries cliffhanger nowadays, with countless folks waiting eagerly for the next chapter to be released.
CATCO's Studio Two space transforms as it tells this whirlwind of a tale, so fantastically ridiculous, you can't help but think that it might just be true. Aided by a set that looks much like the deck of a Pirates of the Carribean movie sprawled out before your eyes in absolutely breathtaking detail (designed by the phenomenal Michael S. Brewer), and characters brought to life in Victorian era charm with costumes by Marcia Hain, Director Mark Seamon creates a re-telling that is like a bedtime story on steroids- full of over-the-top imagination as chapters unfold.
Robert Behrens is effervescent as the yarn-spinning deRougemont. Behrens makes one feel a bit as if you are watching a traveling medicine man- never sure of the truth of what you are seeing, but none-the-less entranced enough by his slight of hand to follow along. In an attempt to utilize the sort of everyday-wizardry used in a good story-theater tale, an abundance of props transition the different plot elements, at times to the distraction of the suspension of disbelief of its audience (actors plunge their faces into steel tubs of water on stage to mimic the pearl divers, in one instance). It's a bit difficult to ask your audience to follow down the rabbit hole of imagination when very little is left to the imagination. The show is smoother and cleaner when left to the actors to unravel through their characterizations. And truly, Behrens is at his finest, stripped down, alone, in the final moments of the play, where you are left to wonder whether he is insane or genius, or both. Behrens has a Robin Williams-like characteristic in this scene particularly, that gave me chills.
Behrens' Louis deRougemont is accompanied onstage by the extremely versatile Lisa Thoma and Joe Dallacqua, who each play more than a half-dozen characters, creating comedic personas in abundance on the fly, each so distinct, yet so brief, that every time one of them exits the stage, you can't wait to see who they become next. Dallacqua is delightful as deRougement's expressive and unfailingly faithful canine companion, Bruno, but his impersonation of the Queen of England is sublime. Thoma is cartoonishly amusing as the pearl-seeking pirate captain, while wide-eyed and endearing as deRougemont's Aborigine wife. The trio weave seamlessly throughout the plot, managing fabulous energy throughout.
The production is family-friendly, about 1 ½ hours long, and as a whole, plays a bit like listening to my grandfather's tales of youth. The story may change in the re-telling, it may or may not have any actual grounding in truth, but when it is told with such life and energy, you not only listen, but walk away wondering where the line of impossible actually lies. And for you history buffs, it's all out there, google away. Before you pass judgment, though, come see for yourself if DeRougement's tale is in fact, as fantantasic as it seems, or merely farce.
CATCO presents, "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment- The Amazing Adventures of Louis deRougemont (as told by Himself)" in Studio Two of the Riffe Center now through Feb. 23rd. Go to : http://catco.org/shows/2013-2014/shipwrecked for showtimes/dates and ticketing information.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Generation