Whether you are eight years old or eighty, run, don’t walk to Costa Mesa and
delight in the sheer magic of live theater at South Coast Rep’s world premiere
production of Donald Margulies magnificent adventure story, Shipwrecked! 
What would cost Hollywood a couple hundred million dollars to achieve, the
geniuses behind this production and its three supremely gifted actors (doing
the work of the proverbial “cast of thousands”) achieve at a fraction of the
cost, with equal or greater entertainment value.

Rarely have all the elements of a live production (writer, director, actors,
design team) come together more wondrously than they do in Shipwrecked
(whose full title is Shipwrecked! An Entertainment The Amazing Adventures of
Louis de Rougemont (as told by Himself)).  Drawing on classics like Robinson
Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and Treasure Island, Shipwrecked takes you on a
journey across the seas to (nearly) deserted islands where tropical storms and
exotic creatures await you.  And that’s just the beginning!

Shipwreck’s story is told in the first person by de Rougemont (a British citizen
with a French name) himself, speaking directly to the audience.  First, however,
he points out to us the location of the “egresses” in case of emergency and
cautions us to turn off any “noise making devices.”  “Tuck them away or we’ll
crush them away,” he threatens with a twinkle in his eye.  De Rougemont
(portrayed by Tony nominee Gregory Itzin) also introduces us to his two young
helpers, “Miss Butiu” (Melody Butiu) and “Mr. Cassaday” (Michael Daniel
Cassady), who will portray the many people (and animals) he encounters on
his journeys.

We first meet de Rougemont as a fragile boy with a docile constitution (played
by the adult Itzin without change in makeup) being told bedtime adventure
stories by his mother as he makes shadow figures on the walls. Soon he is
sixteen and aboard ship sailing for the farthest seas. Shipwrecked on an island
with only the ship’s dog Bruno for company, he eventually meets several
Aborigines with whom he bonds. To reveal more of the story would be to spoil
its many marvelous surprises.

Steven Cahill has composed background music befitting the most exciting of
Hollywood’s adventure flicks, and created one of the most dazzlingly inventive
sound designs in memory. The call of a trumpet, the clip-clop of horses hooves,
the tolling of Big Ben, underwater wind chimes, and the roar of a typhoon are
but a few of the tapestry of sounds and music that he has woven together for
this production.

Equal to Cahill’s sound design are Rand Ryan’s lighting and Christine Marie’s
“shadow scenic design.”  A large sail-shaped scrim fills the upstage wall, on
which are projected a man-eating octopus, a ship-swallowing whirlpool, a
burning sun, a ship in the distance, etc.  Best of all is seeing how Marie
recreates de Rougemont’s awe-inspiring “gymnastics” routines, which get him
out of more than one scrape and elicit the loudest guffaws of the evening.

Keith E. Mitchell has designed a remarkably mobile and inventive set which,
together with the actors’ suggestions and the audience’s imagination
becomes just about any location we wish it to be, a child’s bedroom, a ship
tossed by the waves of a storm, a deserted island, to mention just three.  And
Candice Cane’s costumes (literal for de Rougemont, figurative for the two
actors playing multiple characters) show equal imagination.  Finally, whoever
created the two dolls which “portray” an Aborigine baby and a British child
named Albert deserves an ovation just for these adorable creations.

Gregory Itzin, Tony nominated for The Kentucky Cycle, and the President of the
United States on TV’s 24, has the audience in the palm of his hand from his first
entrance.  With a voice reminiscent of Rex Harrison’s, his telling of his
adventures is so full of joy and wonder and discovery that we cannot help but
be swept along on his journey.

Melody Butiu (so memorable in The Break-Up Notebook) gets to transform
herself into (amongst others) a Cockney sea captain, an Aborigine maiden, a
tabloid newspaper publisher, Queen Victoria, and a librarian.  As the
Aborigine, Butiu is especially funny recounting the story of their shipwreck in her
“native language” as de Rougemont translates for the audience, and
wondrous as she discovers her first telescope. Her “native dance” is truly one of
a kind.

Never has man’s best friend been brought to more vivid and adorable life
than has de Rougemont’s Bruno by Michael Daniel Cassady. Whether
panting, his tongue hanging low, or making a variety of dog sounds in his
handheld mike, or cuddling up to his master to get his head scratched,
Cassady’s work is masterful. And that’s not the only role the talented Cassady
gets to play. He and Butiu also double as Aborigines, Australian prospectors, a
pair of veddy British ladies drinking their tea, pseudo-audience members,
newspaper reporters, and Cassady solo appears as the “foremost expert on
the wombat.” 

I had approached Shipwrecked! with a degree of skepticism. It sounded like it
might be too “childish” for me and adventure movies are not my usual fare. 
However any reservations I may have harbored were instantly gone from the
moment Itzin stepped on the stage. Donald Margulies, who is known for his
insightful comedy-dramas such as the Pulitzer Prize winning Dinner with Friends,
proves himself as much a master of adventure as Defoe and Stevenson. And
director Bart DeLorenzo, who has helmed award winning dramas such as The
Cherry Orchard at the Evidence Room, demonstrates a limitless imagination in
his exceptional direction of this 90 minute miracle of theatrical magic. Only
the most jaded curmudgeon could fail to find wonder in this tale.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
September 30, 2007

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