‘Seeing is believing,” Louis de Rougemont (Martin LaPlatney) declares in his concluding dare to the audience in Capital Repertory Theatre’s engaging production of Shiprwrecked! An Entertainment, an adventure of pure theatrical magic. From the moment you enter, the theater, illuminated by the soft glow of the “ghost light” at center stage, with seven footlights bracketing downstage supplying their antique glow, Shipwrecked! confidently asserts itself as theater. Set decidedly in a theater of Victorian vintage, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Marguiles’ 2007 play is equal parts meta-theater and picaresque ripping good yarn. Shipwrecked! is fascinating, fast-paced family fun entertainment that’s perfectly performed by director Terence Lamude’s three-person cast and four-person onstage sound/ light prestidigitators, the only word I could think of to adequately describe their duties and effect.
A platform forms a green room upstage, masked by a white sail, ready to billow at any moment, and framed by faux brick walls and a rakish wooden beam; assorted props hang on the walls or rest on the tables, shelves and wooden floor. Jo Winiarski’s set design serves the performers well. From the moment LaPlateny enters up left, benignly taking stock of the audience with a “Well, well, well. . . . Look at all you lovely people out there,” the audience is firmly entranced, and LaPlatney’s Louis de Rougemont’s self-introduction and “Welcome to this temple of the imagination” sets the tone for the next 90 minutes of fun and magic. For Shipwrecked! is based on the published accounts of the actual Louis de Rougemont, who initially thrilled and ultimately outraged his Victorian audiences more than 100 years ago with wild tales set in the South Seas and Australasia.
That Louis de Rougemont had more than a little Tom Sawyer and Baron Munchhausen (with a dash or two of Capt. Jack Sparrow, a morsel of Forrest Gump and a tad of Big Fish’s Edward Bloom) in him keeps the stories familiar, astounding, and, always, entertaining. LaPlatney keeps Louis front and center, with nary wink of self-conscious superiority to the audience, and that makes all the difference. There’s no hamminess here, and Louis is very believable, a testament to LaPlatney’s talents as an actor. That you see Louis ride the sea turtle in Shipwrecked!’s concluding image is due to LaPlatney’s focus, empathy, and integrity as an actor. The play, indeed, is the thing for him, not the attention onstage.
While LaPlatney is the spine along which the play rides, he is matched in talents by Stacey Linnartz and Michael Satow, who play the dozens of characters Louis de Rougemont meets in his fantastical journey. A blonde beauty worthy of a Hollywood close-up, Linnartz is also an actor worthy of any stage. Here she begins playing de Rougemont’s matronly French mother, handing him a copy of The Complete Works of Mr. William Shakespeare. “All you need to know about life is between its covers,” she tells him—and not insignificantly it turns out. Linnartz then shifts to become the crusty Captain Jensen “going pearling” in the South Seas (you’ll swear she got a peg leg) and finally portrays Louis’s aboriginal wife, Yamba, with a stirring nuptial dance solo. Satow equals Linnartz in character creation. His Bruno the dog is a particular crowd pleaser, and his energetic hopping behind various cannibal masks and quick duo of Victorian cap-and-derby character exchanges make for particular choice moments.
What ties all the tales and the characters and the images together is the prestidigitation Linnartz and Satow do in full view of the audience with the help of Ashley Dumas, Dakotah Horan, Brendan Tenan, and Marissa Wade, listed as “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” The six seem to melt into the stagecraft, creating the sights and sounds of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment by means of plungers in buckets of water, jars of yellow or green liquid, spinning umbrellas, guitars, mallets, drums, thunder sheets, wind machines; it’s A Prairie Home Companion minus the corny archness. The six are the true magic of Shipwrecked! An Entertainment, performing with a focus on the moment and a commitment to the act that are the stuff that theatrical dreams are made on.
When the inevitable denouement falls on Louis de Rougemont and he declares “Man leaves behind his name and the stories he tells” before turning a trunk, a bucket, and a plunger into the stuff only he and Jack Sparrow could ride, the transfiguration is only possible by the sights and sound of “Tomorrow’s Leaders.” As Louis says, “This is God’s aquarium,” and through their talents for several seconds we get to experience it, too. That’s the sort of rare entertainment Shipwrecked! creates.