Theatrical magic doesn’t get more magical—or more brilliantly theatrical—than Donald Margulies’ Shipwrecked!: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself), now captivating audiences at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.
Based on an actual late-19th-century publishing sensation entitled The Adventures Of Louis de Rougemont, Margulies’ adventurous tale takes sixteen-year-old Londoner Louis off on an escapade to “see things written about in books.”
Pickpocketed of his mum’s life savings almost the second he’s hit downtown, Louis sees no other option but to head off to sea on an odyssey that will soon leave him stranded on a seemingly deserted island with ship’s pooch Bruno his only companion, that is until a chance meeting with local Aborigines leads to romance.
And that’s just the start of a classic tale that has playwright Margulies not only veering into territory far removed from his Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends but doing so like the finest adventure spinners of centuries past.
There’s nothing at all old-hat, however, about the unexpectedly dark twists Margulies has in store for audiences precisely when it seems that Louis’ adventures have ended with spectacular flourish, nor with the approach he has taken to bring said adventures to theatrical life.
Though it’s perhaps easiest to imagine Louis’ epic tale as a nine-figure Hollywood extravaganza, the miracle of Margulies’ script (a 2007 South Coast Repertory World Premiere) is in taking what James Cameron would require gazillions to shoot and achieving equally memorable results at a teeny tiny fraction of the cost, thanks at ICT to Luke Yankee’s inspired direction, a superb cast of just three actors (Nick Ley, Laurine Price, and Jud Williford), the former two portraying over two dozen major featured roles between them, a crackerjack production design team’s supreme ingenuity, and perhaps most importantly of all, an audience’s imagination.
Williford plays “only one role,” but he does so with so much panache and depth (never leaving the stage as he takes Louis from childhood to old age while serving as our narrator, guide, leading man, and occasional acrobat with the help of movement director Michael Polak) that his performance easily matches those of his cast-of-thousands supporting duo.
Ley’s Bruno may be the evening’s most loveable scene-stealer (whether emitting various and sundry dog sounds, panting with low-hanging tongue, or cuddling up to his master for a tummy rub), but he and Price are simply wondrous at all the characters they create, from precocious children to exotic Aborigines to crusty Australian prospectors to nosey newspaper reporters to a pair of veddy British tea-sipping ladies to the world’s “foremost expert on the wombat.”
The assorted odd-and-ends scattered about scenic designer Tesshi Nakagawa’s sail-backed set (a ship’s trunk, a ladder, scarves, some rope, and a couple of mops, to name just some) may look like nothing more than assorted odd-and-ends (with a tip of the hat to resident properties designers Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles) but just wait till you see what they do.
Additional paraphernalia and a couple of standing mikes on either side of Nakagawa’s set are there for a reason too. (Hint: Think of how classic radio plays created their sound effects, a technique we now call Foley, and get ready to ooh and aah at how Dave Mickey has created one of the year’s most extraordinary sound designs without a single prerecorded effect, aided and abetted by the multitasking Ley and Price.)
Donna Ruzika’s lighting is as flairful as lighting designs get; resident costume designer Kim DeShazo’s inventive accessorizing transforms Ley and Price in an instant from Victorian Londoners to characters as diverse as a ship’s captain, an Aborigine princess and tribal chief, a canine, and even Queen Victoria herself; and some nifty 19th-century-style projections add to the magic.
Shipwrecked! is produced by caryn desai. Bradley Zipser is production stage manager and Sabrina Bordeaux is assistant stage manager. Casting is by Michael Donovan, CDA. Richie Ferris is casting assistant.
I ended my very first review of Shipwrecked!: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself) with a declaration that holds every bit as true today as it did in ’07, so permit me the liberty of repeating myself nine years later.
Only the most jaded curmudgeon could fail to find wonder in this tale.
International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
October 21, 2016
Photos: Tracey Roman