By Richard Ades
Louis de Rougemont had quite an adventure, and he desperately wants to tell us about it. With a combination of narration, acting, shadow figures and sound effects, the 19th century Londoner explains how he left home as a youth and went to sea, only to be shipwrecked and stranded for years on a desert island.
A giant octopus, a rare black pearl and a tribe of Australian Aborigines also figure in his tale, which unfolds in Donald Margulies’s Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself).
When I first saw the play in a 2010 Whistling in the Dark production, I thought it was a bit long-winded, but I enjoyed the way it captured the spirit of its real-life adventurer’s times. Because it was presented in a theater that was designed to be environmentally friendly, the production took a low-tech approach that added to the period feel. The live piano accompaniment was particularly effective.
CATCO’s current production, directed by Mark Seamon, is less low-tech and, thus, seems less authentic. Moreover, Seamon and company punctuate the story with goofy sound effects (a slide whistle and the like) that probably are designed to tickle younger viewers. Well, maybe they do, but they detract from the show’s credibility. De Rougemont clearly wants us to amaze us, not amuse us.
Beyond those quibbles, the show has much to recommend it. Shakespearean actor/director Robert Behrens makes a rare stage appearance as the title adventurer, and he gives an entertaining performance. Enthusiastic supporting actors Lisa Thoma and Joe Dallacqua play all the characters de Rougemont comes into contact with, especially a friendly Aborigine woman (Thoma) and an even friendlier dog (Dallacqua).
Even before the action starts, Michael S. Brewer’s handsome set is sure to elicit a few “oohs” and “aahs.” The broad-beamed stage floor is a good stand-in for the ship deck on which the young de Rougemont begins his adventures.
Yes, the play still seems a bit long-winded (I’ve heard of other productions that wrapped things up in less than 90 minutes, though I can’t imagine how). But the tale it tells is a fascinating one, made even more so by the fact that we’re not entirely sure we should believe it.
CATCO will present Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) through Feb. 23 in Studio Two, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St. Show times are 11 a.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Tickets are $11.50 for Wednesday matinees, $45 on Fridays and Saturdays, $41 for other shows. Discount student tickets ($15) are offered two hours before show time. 614-469-0939 or catco.org.