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A pirate’s life for me: Stacey Linnartz and Martin LaPlatney in Capital Repertory Theatre’s Shipwrecked!

Photo: Joe Schuyler

That’s Entertainment

By James Yeara

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement (As Told By Himself)

By Donald Marguiles, directed by Terence Lamude

Capital Repertory Theatre, through Feb. 13

‘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.

 

Good Grief

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

Written by Bert V. Royal, directed by Neilson R. Jones

Confetti Stage, through Feb. 12

Though Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead has no official association with the estate of Charles M. Schulz—a fact the program notes are careful to highlight—the inspiration for the show is blatant: What if Charlie Brown, Schulz’s long-suffering everyboy, aged and were forced to endure the emotional intensity of modern adolescence?

Now, Charlie Brown, as portrayed by Schulz, could hardly have been said to have had it easy as a preteen. The punch line of the very first Peanuts strip, published in 1950, had another character proclaiming of Brown, “How I hate him.” But playwright Bert V. Royal’s version of this icon, a character named C.B., is in for an even harder time.

The first scene uses a Peanuts convention, the letter to a pen pal, to announce how far Royal (also the writer of the current movie Easy A) intends to go. The Brown stand-in, C.B. (Rob Hill), relates how his beloved dog contracted rabies and tore to yellow shreds the bird with whom he shared a weirdly close cross-species friendship. The dog, of course, had to be put down. Snoopy mangles Woodstock, nearly mauls his owner, and is euthenized. And we’re off . . .

Snoopy was always the most joyous character in the Peanuts strip. By eliminating him, Royal announces his intention to immerse C.B. in an even grimmer existence than he has already had. The dimensions of this struggle are made explicit when C.B. chats to his friend Van (John Mac Schnurr), a Buddhist burnout, who explains to C.B. the danger of attachment:

VAN. The things we think define us, don’t mean shit in the grand scheme of things. Us defines us. Not things or other people or pets. Like, me without my blanket—it’s still me. I miss my fuckin’ blanket though. That was a dick thing y’all did.

CB. Three words for you, bro–Pubic. Lice. Infestation.

VAN. Could’ve been fixed.

CB. Hey, we let you keep the ashes.

VAN. I smoked ’em.

Royal has in mind for C.B. nothing less than Nothingness—that is, the prospect of being stripped of all the props of his identity and being brought face to face with a definitionless self.

Around him, half-familiar characters squirm in their own shifting, ill-fitting identities: C.B.’s sister (Meigg Jupin) concocts a gloomy and theatrical persona, and a one-woman show about a butterfly who dreams of being a platypus; the formerly slovenly Matt (Andrew James Poole) seems to have thrown himself into a tense dynamic of both body worship and homophobia; the inseparable Tricia and Marcy (Jennifer Van Iderstyne, Vivian Hwang) are insecure, vicious and promiscuous party girls; Van’s sister is institutionalized for a pyromaniacal assault; and the sensitive Beethoven (Ryan Moran), hides in the music room, playing Schubert.

At its funniest, Dog Sees God feels like Schulz’s characters transported to the Westerberg High of Heathers— and there are many very funny moments. The young cast is remarkably confident, and comfortable with the often crass material. Schnurr’s stoner is fun throughout, and Van Iderstyne and Hwang have moments of Saunders and French-like debauched charm.

But the play has darker currents, as well. Hate speech and bullying will, now, likely, forever invoke Columbine—and Dog Sees God is not merely a gleeful, potty-mouthed scandal. I’m not entirely certain that Royal quite manages to pull it off, the balance of humor and heavy, frankly. And the framing device that so boldly kicks the show off felt a bit watery to me at play’s end—as if Royal, himself, were uncomfortable with the Nothingness he invoked and felt the need to throw the characters or the audience a lifeline.

But the actors worked the strong points of the material, and soundly hit some remarkably subtle notes. In a scene of sibling rapprochement, Jupin simply conjured sadness and sympathy that were quiet and touching, however brief. And the lanky and dark-eyed Moran exuded a compelling kind of dignified doom, without which the ending would have been altogether too trite.

—John Rodat


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