Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself)
You will likely be both completely blindsided and totally satisfied by Shipwrecked!'s resolution. A brilliantly trimmed-down stage adaptation of Louis de Rougemont's 1899 memoir, is a true story accurate in all its relevant details. Adroitly directed by Doug West, the production captures a rare stylishness which is part and parcel of Margulies' creation.
There is an illustrated storybook style to the settings and properties which are designed to appear to be homemade set pieces (e.g., an embellished miniaturized sail is all that is needed to transport us to a ship at sea). The charming set design is the work of Steven Beckel, Bonnie J. Monte and Doug West.
The cast consists of four actors: Bruce Cromer portrays de Rougemont, and three others–Aurea Tomeski, Jabari Carter, Paul Henry–billed simply as players, portray in the neighborhood of a two dozen roles. Yet the stage feels as if it is being filled by a far larger cast.
The conceit of Shipwrecked! is that Louis de Rougemont is regaling us with his fascinating and fantastical, humorously delivered life story. His story begins when he is eight years old. Having been born in Paris, young Louis is being raised in England by his mother. He loves to be out of doors. As he climbs out a window, his mother urges him to come back to bed because he is a sickly child and she fears for his wellbeing. Confining Louis to his bed, his mother spends her days reading him lush and excitingly adventurous books of the likes and quality of Robinson Crusoe. His thirst for exotic adventure stimulated by such literature, Louis packs his possessions (principally, a heavy book) and abandons his home and sick bed to experience the world. Despite his mother's warning that "the world is a dangerous place," in short order, the naive Louis finds himself pickpocketed and bankrupt.
Befriended by a pearl diver who is a freelance, self-designated "sea dog" of a captain, Louis signs on to a voyage to the Coral Sea of Australia to pearl dive ("Chapter One–My faithful journey begins). They are accompanied by Louis' best friend, Bruno, the captain's dog whose love has been captured by Louis.
Louis then tells us of his hair-raising encounters at sea, which include an attack on their boat by a devouring octopus and being caught in the eye of a whirlpool. Saved from death by Bruno, Louis is marooned hopelessly on an island as "days, weeks, months, seasons pass."
Eventually, Louis encounters a tribe of aborigines. After overcoming their dangerous and fearful hostility, Louis marries Yamba, a aborigine woman with whom he has two daughters. Many, many years of travels and happenings, which you will want to experience for yourself, are related to us by Louis, taking us up to 1899 and the phenomenally successful publication of "Shipwrecked!" which brings fame, fortune and idolization to him. He is received by Queen Victoria and his statue is installed in Madame Tussauds famed and prestigious wax museum.
Bruce Cromer's de Rougemont delightfully, often with comic gusto, makes us feel and share his delight at being our evening's raconteur. Aurea Tomeski adds tremendously to our interest in Louis' marriage by conveying a reservoir of intelligent and deep feeling to the role of Yamba. She also plays Louis' mother most effectively. Jabari Carter is quite delightful throughout, most particularly so in the roles of the dog Bruno and Queen Victoria. Paul Henry is solid in less showy roles. His most extended portrayal is that of the captain.
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself) runs through July 30, 2023, at The Shakespeare of New Jersey, Outdoor Stage, The Greek Theatre in Morris Township (On the campus of Saint Elizabeth University), 2 Convent Road, Morristown NJ. For tickets and information, please visit www.shakespearenj.org.