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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT...
at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters

TO TELL THE TRUTH
By STUART MILLER

  Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Michael Countryman/Ph: James Leynse

At Donald Margulies' best, in Dinner With Friends or The Loman Family Picnic, the playwright is a wry and incisive storyteller, so the notion of Margulies creating a storyteller extraordinaire, especially one who struggles with the truth and his own sense of identity, is immensely appealing.

Unfortunately, however, Shipwrecked: An Entertainment, The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement As Told By Himself founders on the rocks, and is ultimately sunk by Margulies' unwillingness to push himself to live inside his alter-raconteur.

De Rougement was an actual con man in Victorian England, and in the play is here to tell us, the audience, about his thirty years shipwrecked on remote islands, living among indigenous people. Yet instead of telling us the story in vivid and gripping detail, Rougement shows us various scenes, using two "players" to act out various characters he encounters while providing primitive sound effects and "let's-put-on-a-show" props. The result is sometimes clever but frequently too precious and juvenile (the human as playful dog bit is especially tiresome)-it is a storytelling technique often used by productions for children at the New Victory Theater, but those are usually more imaginative and sophisticated, serving the story instead of replacing it. Here, these mini-scenes are delivered in broad strokes that minimize any emotional connection to character or story.

As de Rougement, Michael Countryman has some marvelous moments but his affable, avuncular presence undermines the show-the original production at South Coast Rep featured Gregory Itzin, who apparently brought a sense of danger and mendacity (as he did so well as President Charles Logan on 24) that would have at least lent a sense of intrigue to the proceedings. Yet Margulies, who is scratching at the surface of some fascinating themes about storytelling, identity, and celebrity among other things, would have been better off stripping away all the distractions, forcing de Rougement to take the stage alone. To keep an audience aboard for an entire evening, he'd have had to conjure up the depth and details that might have made de Rougement seem like more than "an entertainment," he would have seemed relevant, important, and alive.

 


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