Opening Nights: Shipwrecked! An Adventure

The James Frey of his day, author/hoaxer Louis de Rougemont (1847-1921) wrote a series of wildly popular accounts of his misadventures on high seas and amid primitive cultures. (In Australia, he claimed to have seen wombats fly.) In Donald Margulies' 2007 treatment of his life and lies, Louis goes from pedestal to gutter in barely the time it takes a roomful of knowledgeable skeptics to puncture this globe-drifting windbag. Moreover, Louis begins his story as a street beggar with a sign around his neck reading "I Will Tell My Story for Money," which removes any mystery about how things will end up for him. He also prefaces the 90-minute tale with admonishments that we not get distracted (isn't it his job to hold our attention?), and threatens to crush our lozenges if we so much as rustle a wrapping. Eurodandy protagonist Louis (slender everyman Doug Fahl) is desperate for attention. Yet for all his lies and confabulations, he's not terribly colorful; rather, he seems repressed and generic. His only consistent behavioral trait is a penchant for repeating what others say right after they say it. Is Margulies deliberately giving us an uncompelling storyteller as a moral/meta-message about authenticity? This small-minded, boring man must compensate by telling tall travel tales? It's not much of a stage conceit, especially when Louis' fortunes unfold in an almost mechanistic wave pattern of rises and falls. Margulies' elsewhere-stated (and less interesting) point is how the illusions of stagecraft can create the illusion of a wide, varied, and fractious world. While Shipwrecked seldom accomplishes that same grand transformation, director Christopher Zinovitch's scrappy production embraces the spirit. Some scenes rouse a smile with their winsome illusions—for example, an underwater vignette created by Josh Randall's stippled lights, Rob Witmer's bubbly sounds, and actors manipulating scarves (as seaweed), fans (as fish), a lamp (an electric fish), and an opening and closing umbrella (a squid or jellyfish). More of them, though, use stick puppets, dolls, and toy models to illustrate the action. The best parts of the evening are Nick Edwards in the roles of Queen Victoria and Bruno (Louis' dog and fellow shipwreck survivor) and the play's final image, in which the least plausible detail of Louis' story comes to pass in an almost orgasmic way.

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