Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: FEBRUARY 27, 2009
Ahoy, Matey! Come aboard for a tall tale of daring and derring-do. Of poverty and wealth, misery and romance, loneliness and friendship. It’s all there in “Shipwrecked !, ” which calls itself ”An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself).” It’s a breathtaking adventure, about a sickly young boy who leaves the nest at age 16, setting off to see the world. He doesn’t return for some 30 years, and what he’s experienced in that time would make Robinson Crusoe and P.T. Barnum blanch.
. When he re-enters civilization, a magazine publishes his story in installments, and Londoners go wild. Half a million people hungrily devour the escapades of his journey. Queen Victoria makes him a member of the Order of the British Empire . But when he appears before the Royal Geographical Society , it all begins to unravel. The scientists question the veracity and even the possibility of some of his exploits. Ultimately, he’s disgraced, dishonored, even diagnosed with ‘delusions of grandeur.’ He winds up on the streets, penniless, maintaining the authenticity of his story to the end.
Sounds wild and wondrous, right? A great adventure. A marvelous theatrical invention. Well, it is. But it’s also based entirely in fact. De Rougemont actually lived in the early 20th century. And his story provided a fertile field for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, who’s always been captivated by the intersection of honesty, creativity and commercialism in all forms of art. This isn’t as deep a contemplation as his previous work, such as the magnificent “Sight Unseen” or “Collected Stories.” But this play takes a very different form, ingeniously combining the essence of storytelling and the magic of theater.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, Ron Campbell, a gifted comic actor, commands the stage and recounts his fabulous journey, while David McBean and Yetide Badaki use minimal props to provide all the other characters he encounters, including the sea captain, the devoted dog, the aboriginal love interest, and others, all the while quick-changing costumes and creating a boatload of sound effects. It’s amusing, engaging and exhilarating. Campbell is spectacular, Badaki is appealing and McBean is flat-out hilarious.
Guest director Matthew Wiener, from the Actors Theatre of Phoenix, keeps the pace nimble and energetic, which ensures that we get completely caught up in the adventure. You can just enjoy it as the ‘entertainment’ it’s purported to be or, in light of the recent flaps about fabricated memoirs, you can view it as a fascinating exploration of the nature of truth in art and the sheer power of storytelling.
“Shipwrecked!” runs through March 15, at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach .
©2009 PAT LAUNER