Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
We encounter De Rougemont in 1898 standing on stage between staid red velvet drapes, where he is about to relate his life story, just published in The Wide World Magazine. The London-based magazine, with the motto "Truth is stranger than fiction," was launched in April of 1898 with the goal of reporting on incredible but true events in the world. In August that year, it hit the jackpot with De Rougemont's saga, released in installments. The fledgling magazine's circulation exploded, establishing it well enough to continue publishing until 1965. However, the story at the center of that increase proved to be far less durable.
De Rougemont enacts his life using grand gestures and hyperbolic descriptions. He starts with his early life as a sickly child in England, kept apart from rough and tumble lives of boys by his protective mother. At age sixteen he leaves home for London to make his way in the world, promising his mother he will return. Suffering at the rough hands of London's underside, he is hired by a pearl diving junket to the South Pacific. The ship is caught in a terrible storm, which Louis survives through a mix of remarkable luck and unexpected skills, which includes riding on the backs of sea turtles. His only fellow survivor is the captain's affectionate and faithful dog Bruno, who becomes Louis' best friend. They land on a desolate coast of Australia where Louis overcomes the hostility of aboriginal natives with a display of his gymnastic talents (Cartwheels! Headstands! Summersaults!). He is then welcomed as a god and marries the chief's daughter. Several decades of idyllic life pass quickly, but then he feels the need to return to England and see his mother. After a long, arduous trek he makes it back, and it is his now-aged mother who suggests submitting his story to The Wide World Magazine.
This is not the end of the play, but I will leave off the remainder, hoping that you have the opportunity to see Shipwrecked! for yourself, ideally GRSF's wonderful production, but if not, in some other incarnation of the play. Sure, you can Google Louis De Rougemont or The Wide World Magazine and find out for yourself what I am not telling you, but trust me, it will be far more fun to see it enacted on stage than to read in digital black and white.
Shipwrecked is first and foremost a tour-de-force opportunity for the actor who plays De Rougemont, an opportunity put to superb advantage by Chris Mixon in this production. Mixon narrates the astounding tale of De Rougemont's life with complete conviction, conveying his own amazement with the unlikely turns his life took. He is tremendously aided by two actors, Michael Fitzpatrick and Maya Jackson, who play all the other rolesa host of characters, with Fitzpatrick especially hilarious as the frisky, face-licking dog Bruno and the aboriginal chief, and Jackson especially memorable as Louise's mother, his aboriginal bride, and George Newness, The Wide World's publisher. The acting trio work beautifully together, directed by Rick Barbour with precision as shifts from character to character, and scene to scene, are managed without missing a beat. A scene in which Fitzpatrick is a newsstand vendor hawking copies of The Wide World with Louis' story to a crowd of customerseach member of that crowd played by Jacksonis a marvel of split-second timing and comic invention.
Aside from offering immensely entertaining performances and a delightfully wacky story, Shipwrecked! is also a statement about storytelling itself. Margulies has devised a delightfully cheeky manner of telling this tale, with the highly theatrical use of a tiny cast aided by imaginative costumes and clever props. Without offering anything resembling verisimilitude, he makes his audience want to believe the unbelievable.
Shipwrecked! premiered at South Coast Rep in California in 2007, only seven years after playwright Margulies won the Pulitzer Prize for Dinner with Friends. When the play begins it feels as if Margulies, having done some dramatic heavy lifting, had given himself permission to turn out a lightweight entertainment. However, as it unfolds, Shipwrecked! is light in tone, but carries a well-structured dramatic arc worthy of an accomplished playwright
I frequently recommend Great River Shakespeare Festival for the outstanding way in which it makes Shakespeare's workcomedies, tragedies and historiesaccessible and enjoyable, with compromising the text or the messages within the work. That is the powerful draw that has made them an essential facet of Minnesota's fertile theater community. However, while making the trip to Winona to see one (or both!) of this year's Shakespeare plays, you would be well rewarded to make time for Shipwrecked, a totally delightful foray into the art of storytelling.
Season 14 of the Great River Shakespeare Festival continues through July 30, 2017, at the Performing Arts Center of Winona State University, 450 Johnson Street, Winona MN. Tickets: $39.00 - $49.00; General Seating (reserves a ticket but not a specific seat) - $25.00; Students - $15.00. Discount Pass for all three mainstage shows area available. For performance and other event schedules and tickets call 507-474-7900 or go to GRSF.org.
Writer: Donald Margulies; Director: Rick Barbour; Scenic Design: R. Eric Stone; Costume Design: Rebecca Bernstein; Lighting Design: Sarah Resch; Sound and Foley Design: Katherine Horowitz; Props Supervisor: Connor M. McEvoy; Text Coach: Jess Shoemaker; Stage Manager: Violet Smith; Assistant Director: Travis Huddleston; Assistant Stage Manager: Brittany Brown; Production Stage Manager: Daniel Munson; Production Manager: Joseph Millett.
Cast: Michael Fitzpatrick (Player # 2), Maya Jackson (Player # 1), Chris Mixon (Louis De Rougemont), Emily Perkins (Stage Assistant)