CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
By Geary Danihy
Everyone loves a rogue, be he a second-rate carny who just happens to find himself in the Wonderful
Land of Oz and makes the most of the residents' gullibility or a flim-flam artist who sells River City,
Iowa, on the need for a boys' band. Such a man is Louis de Rougemont, the main character in Donald
Margulies' Shipwrecked an "Entertainment" that recently opened at Long Wharf Theatre.
De Rougement, as delightfully played by Michael Countryman, is a blend of Lemuel Gulliver, Don
Quixote and Dicken's Mr. Micawber, a "self-made man" in more than one sense of the term who
appears on stage to relate to the audience his life story. Billed as Shipwrecked! An Entertainment. The
Amazing Adventure of Louis de Rouegemont (As Told by Himself), the saga is replete with shipwrecks,
cannibals, beautiful maidens and rides on the backs of sea turtles.
Assisting Countryman in the fabrication of this wonder-filled, picaresque tale are the multi-talented
Angela Lin and Jeff Biehl, both of whom, under the deft direction of Evan Cabnet, are called upon to
create a gallery of characters including, on Biehl's part, a dog who shares many of de Rougemont's
It's a tongue-in-cheek romp that turns a bit serious near its conclusion as the nature of truth is
broached and de Rougement is called upon to defend his "life." In Micawber-like fashion, however, de
Rougement rises above his critics' slings and arrows, holding fast to the image he has created both for
himself and the audience and riding off into the sunset in a most appropriate manner with a gleeful
Integral to the enjoyment of this "entertainment" are Lee Savage's set design and Jessica Wegener's
inventive costumes. The set consists of little more than a revolving platform (that morphs into a tableau
vivant of sorts), a back curtain that is raised and lowered (although never once trued) and a large metal
ladder that rolls in and out from stage right. Though it is minimal, the set and the attendant props (many
of which also provide the sound effects for de Rougemont's presentation) are used to great effect - a
white tarp is drawn forward over the platform and what moments ago was the deck of a ship is now the
sandy shoreline of Australia; the ladder serves as, among other things, the mast of a catamaran and a
factory tower that suggests the transformation London has undergone because of the Industrial
Wegener has provided the show's cast with numerous hats, coats, rain slickers, eyewear and
aboriginal headgear that help them create the many characters that play a part in de Rougemont's tale.
Wegener's inventiveness is seen at its height with the costumes worn by the aboriginal tribesmen -
actually a group of tribesmen (played by Biehl) who confront de Rougement upon his arrival, leading to a
nifty piece of business when de Rougement shakes the hands of the multiple tribesmen.
Countryman, who does not lose his regal bearing regardless of the situation, plays de Rougemont with
a boyish enthusiasm that softens the edges of a character who is basically selling the audience a pig in
a poke. It is as if he is playing both the thief who steals candy from a baby and the baby itself. His
delivery is often wide-eyed and breathless, as if he cannot wait to tell the next installment of his ripping
yarn, for he is both the teller of his tale of adventure and the young lad who hangs on every word.
It is, however, Lin and Biehl who steal the show, for both are extremely adept at seamlessly shifting
from one character to the next. At various times during the show, Lin plays de Rougemont's mother, a
cannibal maiden with whom de Rougement falls in love, a warring tribe (yes, a tribe!) of aborigines, a
salty sea captain and a self-important publisher of a "true adventure" magazine.
Not to be outdone, Biehl is often on all fours as the loyal pooch, prances and grunts as the tribal
chieftain and creates various and sundry minor characters who appear and disappear with great
All of this "playacting" seemed to be especially entertaining to the many young folks who were in the
opening night audience. A young man, perhaps all of 12 years old, sat to my right absolutely entranced,
leaning forward, hands cupping chin, the smile on his face widening to a broad grin as de Rougement
refuses to accept defeat and manufactures his own particular triumph at the end of the play.
Perhaps the children in the audience were best suited, both emotionally and psychologically, to fully
appreciate de Rougement's character and motivations, for they are still caught up in worlds of wonder.
For them, the question of "I wonder what will happen next" has yet to be answered; since they have yet
to "grow up," dreams need not be limited by reality. Theirs is still a world of infinite possibilities, as it is
for Louis de Rougement.
Shipwrecked runs through Sunday, March 16. For tickets or more information call 787-4282 or go to