CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
By Tom Holehan
"It might work better on the radio", my theatre partner observed after seeing "Shipwrecked", the new
Donald Margulies play (with lots of old-fashioned, man-made sound effects) currently on stage at Long
Wharf Theatre's Stage II. The premiere work, "an entertainment" from the Pulitzer Prize winning author
of "Dinner With Friends" and "Sight Unseen" among numerous other plays, is a tall tale told in
exuberant style by a game cast and an open-minded director. If, at the end, it switches gears and
doesn't seem to add up to much, one can't deny the fun in getting there.
Subtitled "The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (as told by himself)", "Shipwrecked"
features Michael Countryman in a broad performance as Louis who takes us on a fantastical journey
starting with his repressed childhood in England to his teen years on the high seas and concluding with
his adulthood on a Caribbean island where he married, had children and rode sea turtles. It is the sheer
art of storytelling that Margulies is exploiting here mostly to good fun as it tends to appeal to the child
in everyone. Indeed, on opening night, it was a rare treat to hear a healthy mix of children laughing
within the mostly adult crowd.
In the 90-minute, intermissionless evening the majority of the play is taken up with this whimsical tall
tale that gives the actors plenty to do as they provide all the sound effects and make quick scenery
changes with admirable élan. During the play's final 15 minutes, however, the story takes a misstep and
turns relatively serious as Margulies explores the nature of fame and truth as we are suddenly asked to
question all we've just witnessed. In program notes the playwright reveals that he was inspired by the
scandal that befell James Frey, the author of "A Million Little Pieces" which was embraced and then
rejected by Oprah Winfrey when its veracity was questioned. "Shipwrecked" eventually doubles back
once again at the very end asking us to willingly suspend disbelief and embrace Louis' story without
reservations and, for some audiences, this may be enough.
Michael Countryman gives an enthusiastic, wide-eyed performance as Louis that actually doesn't
vary that much from beginning to end. More variety is in evidence with his co-stars, Angela Lin and Jeff
Biehl, who get to play numerous characters throughout the piece, changing sexes and costumes with
relative ease. Mr. Biehl, in particular, is wonderfully expressive playing Louis' loyal dog in what proved to
be the evening's most crowd-pleasing performance.
Evan Cabnet's clever direction comes up with one inventive gimmick after another and he makes the
most of Long Wharf's intimate Stage II. The set design by Lee Savage covers a lot of territory with a
minimum of fuss and it's highlighted by Tyler Micoleau's efficient lighting. Drew Levy's sound design,
however, is a star within itself and clearly in able hands by the resourceful cast and crew.
An interesting work-in-progress, "Shipwrecked" continues at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre Stage II
through March 16th. For further information call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit the LWT
website at: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford's Square
One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.