Review: Sharp concept helps keep THE SHARK IS BROKEN afloat

Onstage in Toronto now through November 6

By: Oct. 03, 2022
Review: Sharp concept helps keep THE SHARK IS BROKEN afloat
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What do you get when you place three actors at varying points in their careers on a boat, anchor them in the Atlantic Ocean, add a faulty mechanical shark to the equation, and delay shooting for weeks on end? A lot of interpersonal drama, a few laughs, and a play that puts the idea of art under a pretty unique lens, despite moments where the premise struggles to stay afloat.

The Sonia Friedman Productions and Scott Landis production of THE SHARK IS BROKEN, directed by Guy Masterson and written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon has made its arrival to Toronto from the West End as part of Mirvish's current season.

The 90-minute show takes place in 1974 on the set of JAWS. A small boat anchored in the waters off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, cross-sectioned (not unlike it was in the film's climactic fight) to allow viewers a look into the fishing vessel. The play doesn't focus much on actual production of the film, but more in the moments where the main cast members Roy Schneider (Demetri Goritsas), Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) and Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw) are on hold due to a series of malfunctions from their mechanic shark co-star, affectionately named 'Bruce'. Time passes strangely on the boat, and with it the actors' relationships ebb and flow over the course of the extended production schedule.

Tensions rise and flare as the actors' patience wears thin with shoots being stretched out months longer than anticipated, especially between Robert and Richard. Shaw takes on the role of his late father and delivers a gripping Robert (who played Quint in the film). His highly emotional performance showcases the many facets of a man struggling to keep afloat among his own demons, but isn't without a handful of funny, or at times sweet moments. Scott's youthful exuberance as Richard (who played Matt Hooper) is a constant comedic buoy in the story, although when he needs to double down he delivers some poignant moments that showcase the lows of celebrity status in an unreliable industry.

Between the two, Goritsas's Roy (who played Martin Brody) is the perfect balance. He's the level-headed voice of reason in most of their arguments, and seems the most relatable point of entry into the tumultuous lives of the film's male leads. Goritsas is stellar in communicating with just a simple glance, sigh, or pat on his co-star's back, although his character is sadly the least developed in the story.

The set (designer Duncan Henderson) is simple but effective. Henderson and the crew have combined the physical boat with a mix of lighting (lighting design by Jon Clark), sound (sound design & original music by Adam Cork), and video projections (video design by Nina Dunn) to mimic a boat floating at sea. The open nature of the set means that actors are often seen during scene transitions, and the passage of time is often shown through a fast-paced video showing sunset to sunrise and vice versa. The choice to do so makes it tough to know just how long periods between scenes are unless the actors state it themselves, which plays into the feeling of start-and-stop that the actors on set experienced themselves.

At the end of the day, THE SHARK IS BROKEN is a fairly simple story full of complex sub-plots and ideas that don't get explored much beyond their surface. Three very different people, united only by their profession, are forced to spend countless hours together in less-than-ideal situations. In its best moments, the play is an interesting look into artists, personal demons, and community. At other times, it feels a bit empty and cut-off - not unlike the ocean the boat is marooned on. The presence of the cult-classic film hangs over the story at all times, making for some interesting moments of introspection as well as some fourth-wall cracking jokes at the expense of today's film industry. Supported largely by its cast's talent, it's a unique take on some of the people behind a film that altered the thriller genre forever.

Mirvish's THE SHARK IS BROKEN runs through November 6 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St W, Toronto, ON

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Editors note: The previous version of this article had stated that Shaw portrayed Richard. This has been changed to Robert, which is the correct name.