For their summer outdoor production, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has come up with a tale of thrills and adventure which doubles as a lesson in the perils of celebrity. It’s Shipwrecked! An Entertainment — The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) by Donald Margulies, the playwright of Obie Award winners Sight Unseen and The Model Apartment, the Tony Award-nominated Time Stands Still, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends.
Margulies has created a roguish narrator in Louis de Rougemont. Louis warmly guides us into his life story, which reads like a list of greatest hits from the young adult novels of the 19th Century. There’s the young lad who runs away from home to find adventure on a sailing vessel. There are encounters with dangerous sea creatures and savage storms. There are aboriginal Pacific Islanders and Australian miners, savage tribal wars, and the love of a good woman — and a faithful dog.
The tale Louis unfolds is told with absolute certainty, yet his story satirizes all those tales of derring-do, of overcoming incredible adversities in a world wide enough to contain enough adventure to set a young reader’s mind aflame.
It also takes a firm look at the need of some in society to use their self-bestowed authority to mockingly tear down anything they do not understand —or care to believe. It is left to each play-goer to ponder the nature of celebrity and the nature of truth.
The cast, directed by Doug West, is uniformly excellent. Bruce Cromer shines as Louis, skillfully navigating the emotional highs and lows of his life story, helping us to believe in Louis’ adventures in every near-unbelievable detail. In this, he is ably assisted by Jabari Carter, Paul Henry, and Aurea Tomeski, who take on all the other characters in the play, from sea captains to miners, to Louis’ mother, to indigenous Pacific Islanders, to European academics “experts,” to Queen Victoria, to the extraordinarily intelligent and brave Bruno the dog.
The set, designed by Director West, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte, and Steven Beckel, is sparsely functional. In the playing area, the usual backdrop has been removed, giving a view of woods and hills usually not seen by the audience. A large diamond-shaped main playing area is surrounded by a crow’s nest to the right, a sound effects setup on the left, and a small screened-off area upstage. The actors’ skills and the audience’s imagination combine to create London, the Coral Sea, a deserted Pacific island, and the sailing vessel Wonderworld, among other amazing locales.
Shipwrecked! is funny and satirical and a thrilling adventure story. It comments on society’s self-anointed high priests of knowledge, their influence a result of the public’s belief in the pronouncements of authorities, and casts a disapproving glance at the value placed on that public’s acclaim.
It is an imaginative production that will give pleasure to young and old alike, told by an engaging cast and written by a skillful playwright. Take time to spend a summer night (or afternoon) and see Shipwrecked!
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment —The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the Greek Theatre on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station through July 30, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to shakespearenj.org or call 973-408-5600.