CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
A Joyous Journey at Long Wharf
By Amy J. Barry
Special to Living
Captivating, delightful, charming-just a few of the words that come to mind while watching Long Wharf's
production of New Haven Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies' new play, Shipwrecked!
An Entertainment-The amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told By Himself).
Maybe it's the contrast to the cynical, edgy, adult-themed plays that have graced the stages of our
regional theaters these past few months that makes Shipwrecked! a welcome relief. Good old-fashioned
story telling, staging, and silliness are all reasons why this is a terrific play to take the kids to as it
engages both young and old without being trite.
Evan Cabnet's first-rate direction beautifully captures the fanciful spirit of Margulies' script and takes us
along for the ride, keeping us fully engrossed in the one-act, 90-minute performance.
Michael Countryman stars as Louis De Rougemont. Countryman both narrates and participates in the
action on stage that begins with Louis's early years as a sickly child in 1868 England with his
overprotective mother reading him Robinson Crusoe and all the classic adventure tales. At 16 he breaks
out of his myopic little world and embarks on an amazing adventure at sea weathering tropical storms,
diving for pearls, ridings sea turtles, being shipwrecked, marrying a beautiful Aborigine woman, and
raising a family in the Outback.
Countryman's performance as Louis has the perfect balance of childlike wonder-an adult man who never
grows up-and ironic humor. There is clearly a darker side that subtly emerges as the play progresses,
making us question how much of Louis's great adventure is the product of a fertile imagination and how
much is real.
Angela Lin and Jeff Biehl co-star as a host of characters (referred to as Player 1 and Player 2) that fill-in
the background and add richness and fun to the production with their versatile performances.
Lin smoothly transitions from nagging mother to crusty old drunken sea captain to lovely island bride,
seamlessly changing accents, body language and costumes. Biehl plays even broader characters
ranging from the most believable dog-Louis's trusty companion Bruno-to donning a four-headed costume
and becoming an entire Aborigine village. Kudos to Jessica Webener for her wonderfully whimsical
Sound design (Drew Levy) has an important role in this production in which effects are cleverly produced
by the co-stars right on stage using a variety of instruments and devices to create wind, rain, and
thunder, enhancing the classic storytelling/use-your-imagination sense of the show. This mood is
carried through in Lee Savage's understated but creative set implementing a simple draped sheet
backdrop that billows in the wind to create the feeling of sailing on the open seas.
The play's aura of innocence darkens toward the end as homesick Louis decides to leave his island life
and return to London where his adventurous memoir is published in Wide World-which in 1898 was the
tabloid of the day. But as quickly as he is built up into a celebrity castaway he is dismantled by
naysayers as a charlatan and a liar, described by doctors as delusional, and then simply forgotten.
As he happily rides a sea turtle at the close of the play, Louis implores us: "Seeing is believing is it
not? Look at me!"
We are left to decide for ourselves if Louis was actually gone for 30 years or only three.
That would depend on just how fertile our imaginations are, wouldn't it?
Shipwrecked! continues at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through
March 16. For tickets and times, call 203-787-4282 or online www.longwharf.org.
As appeared in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers, week of 3/3.