'Shipwrecked! (Etc.)' Entertains With Tales of Derring-do
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself)
Directed by Scott Lafeber, Scenic Design by Matthew Whiton, Costume Design by Mallory Frers, Lighting Design by Shawn Boyle, Production Stage Manager Nerys Powell, Assistant Stage Manager Cat Dunham
CAST: Allyn Burrows (Louis de Rougemont), Angie Jepson (Player 1), Daniel Berger-Jones (Player 2)
Performances through December 20 at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Box Office 617-585-5678 or www.lyricstage.com
The real-life Louis de Rougement made a big splash in the pages of Britain's Wide World Magazine in the last two years of the 19th century by detailing his thirty-year adventure residing with an aboriginal tribe in the Australian Outback. He claimed that the tribe worshiped him as a god, that he victoriously led them on stilts into battle against invaders, and that he rode a sea turtle for sport, steering it by poking it in the appropriate eye with his toe. The last tidbit seeming to be too fantastic, de Rougement was branded a fraud by skeptics and exposed by The Daily Chronicle in London. But true or false, his adventures make great story-telling and are brought to life in the Boston premiere of Donald Margulies' Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) at The Lyric Stage Company.
As the fictional Louis de Rougemont, Allyn Burrows welcomes the audience to the theatre, the "temple of the imagination," where he regales us with an energetic and vivid telling of the most extraordinary travels and adventures. Burrows is an endearing and enthusiastic tour guide who rigorously performs the elements of the journey, from signing on to a pearling expedition and establishing his sea legs, to displaying acrobatic skills to win over the Aborigines, to gingerly, but joyously, mounting a giant sea turtle, and he does it all (without a stunt double!) while reciting the narration that keeps us rapt. His ubiquitous cohorts are Angie Jepson and Daniel Berger-Jones, each of whom handles props and sound effects in addition to showcasing their range playing multiple roles. In a kinky twist, Jepson stands in for both de Rougemont's mother and his wife, as well as several male characters. Berger-Jones provides musical accompaniment which he composed and plays on the guitar, and does some gender-bending, too. However, the piece de resistance is his portrayal of Bruno, the slobbering dog who befriends Louis on the ship's voyage and remains his stalwart companion while he is marooned on a small island. With his animated panting, tongue lolling, and scampering about on all fours, Berger-Jones makes Bruno just about the most endearing dog ever and you will want to take him home to be your pet.
Owing to the spirited cast and Director Scott Lafeber's charge to the three actors to trust the script and go with it, Shipwrecked! is more fun than a barrel of monkeys and ridiculous in a very good way. Accustomed as we are to going along for the ride (see "Balloon Boy" and White House gate-crashers for only the most recent examples), it is practically reflex to fasten your seatbelt and sit back to listen to yet another purveyor of the preposterous. As a result, in a show which LaFeber says requires enormous audience imagination to fill in the spaces between narration and actual scenes, the audience is primed to fulfill the requirement. Louis de Rougemont told his tale more than a century ago, but Margulies' play is fresh and well-timed because of the rash of fame-seekers and reality star-wannabes who pepper the collective consciousness these days. Reflective of real life in 2009, the hoi polloi rapidly elevate de Rougemont to rock star status and, as quickly and ferociously, knock him from his pedestal, seeking to destroy him.
Excellent effects by Lighting Designer Shawn Boyle, in tandem with the sounds created by Jepson and Berger-Jones, place Louis in the middle of a typhoon in one moment and set a melancholy mood in another, with shafts of light splayed across the multi-hued backdrop. Mallory Frers creates utilitarian outfits for Player 1 and Player 2 that can be worn as tribe members with the addition of feathered headbands, or as church ladies with bonnets. Burrows looks snappy and Victorian at the outset in a cutaway coat, vest, ascot, and spats, but relaxes into an island look with a collarless shirt, rolled-up trousers, and bare feet. Matthew Whiton's set is spare, but the platform atop a large black cube center stage serves as ship's deck, island look-out, podium, and conceals an aquarium-like tank reserved for the final scene. Many of the props seem pulled from a child's toy box, but their simplicity works.
Lyric Stage Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos has made the choIce To stay away from more traditional holiday fare over the last few years, searching out family-friendly alternatives. Shipwrecked! meets the criteria for that category and may take the prize for the show with the longest title. Better yet, it stands out as unique entertainment in any season.