An Entertainment, The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself) Long Wharf Stage II, New Haven
Noted playwright Donald Margulies has fashioned a fairy tale, which in itself is a shock to long-time Margulies fans. This play, which just opened at Long Wharf’s Stage II, does not inhabit the usual Margulies terrain. His works (including the Pulitzer-Prizewinner “Dinner with Friends”) invariably deal with down-to-earth relationships. How do today’s sophisticated couples survive in an upscale American world? But this time around Margulies sets his play in the 19th century, as it recounts the saga of one Louis de Rougemont. And he sends his hero off on a rollicking adventure which may or may not be true.
Margulies acknowledges that the play was originally commissioned as a children’s theater piece. And, in fact, children were well represented in the audience on opening night. But, as it turns out, “Shipwrecked” is a more than a kid’s play. Though audiences are entertained non-stop for almost ninety minutes, the ending (not to be revealed here) turns the story upside down. Viewers are forced to consider the weighty issues which often consume Margulies—human values, family dynamics, the nature of truth, the artist’s role in society.
“Shipwrecked” is based on the real-life Louis de Rougemont. Presumably he is raised in London, but runs away to sea at age sixteen. He travels to Australia, is shipwrecked on an island, lives with the aborigines where he marries a native and sires two children. Eventually, after thirty years, he returns to England where he writes his story and gains fame and fortune. But is it truly his story?
“Shipwrecked” raises the question of artistic integrity (a question which, by coincidence, occupied the characters of Stamford Theatre Works’ recent “Bee-Luther-Hatchee”). Must a writer stick to actual facts, if he presents his works as a “memoir”? Or is there a place for imaginative exaggeration?
Along the way, one is treated to a superb show and an absorbing story—thanks, not only to Margulies, but to the brilliant direction of Evan Cabnet, who sets the right tone and pace. As to the three enormously gifted performers. Michael Countryman, in the lead role, is on stage throughout and never misses a beat. He charms the audience, even as the real de Rougemont must have captivated Londoners. Jeff Biehl and Angela Lin, who each play numerous roles, are every bit his equal. Lin, in a flash, changes from male to female, young maiden to old crone. Biehl, as dog or Aborigine or London newsboy, is equally adept.
Last, but equally important, are the remarkable contributions of the design team. Designer Lee Savage has kept the sets deceptively simple but ingenious. The use of simple props for constant scene changes call upon the viewer to make his own leap into this magic world. Kudos also to lighting designer Tyler Micholeau, sound designer Drew Levy, and costume designer Jessica Wegener.
Given this entertaining but thought-provoking piece, written in an entirely new style, one wonders where Donald Margulies is headed in the future.
-- -Irene Backalenick
February 21, 2008