Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Shipwrecked!: Let the adventure begin!
Louis de Rougemont (Greg Wood) is narrator, the hero of our epic tale, and a real historical figure. A sickly child perpetually bed-bound in his little blue room, Louis imagines living out the grand tales of adventure his protective but doting mother reads aloud. At sixteen he leaves home seeking adventure and finds all be can handle on a pearling expedition to the far off Coral Sea. A long ocean voyage, the most frightening sea monster, breathtaking swims through the great barrier reef, rare treasure, terrible storms, a deserted island, exotic natives, and tribal war are all part of his epic journey.
The props and costumes are crude, but devilishly clever. Hats off to set designer Glen Sears and costume designer Amanda Wolff. One small wooden helm becomes the great ship. A thick red collar turns into a devoted dog. Simple dolls made of sticks, a native boy, and several small babies. The set is appropriately sparse and even the sound effects rely on simple mechanisms operated by the actors on stage. The effect is often humorous but always maintains focus on the story and the impressive cast.
Greg Wood is effortlessly charming in the title role, drawing the audience in with an unlikely mix of insecure sincerity and dazzling showmanship. With the exuberant style of a great storyteller, it would be easy to believe that the role was written with him in mind. Wood keeps the audience rapt with the details of his fantastic island adventures, but what's more impressive is the authentic connection he creates with the audience. That connection gives the adventure story a compelling edge and engenders a sympathy for Louis that lasts beyond his homecoming to London and the chorus of experts there who insist that his story must be more fiction than fact.
All of the other roles (and there are dozens of them) are played by just two actors. With a hat, a collar, or plastic mustache these two players become everything from a crowd on a busy London pier to some of the strangest animals ever to appear in an adventure tale. Bi Jean Ngo's strong performances include the roles of loving mother, scurvy sea captain, Aboriginal love interest, and sea turtle. David Bradley Johnson also plays an army of characters, from dockside thief to queen Victoria, but it is his take on the role of Brunothe captain's dogthat steals the show. It is great fun to watch them preform and there can be no question that "Shipwrecked" delivers on its promise to amaze and entertain.
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) continues through November 1st, 2015, in the Walnut's Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia. For tickets and information call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.WalnutStreetTheatre.org.