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The first thing that strikes an audience member upon entering the “theatrical escapade” Shipwrecked!, directed by Jen Wineman as the second show in Triad Stage’s (TS) 12th season, is that there is some seriously comfortable seating onstage. Called “adventure seating,” it has the look of a 60s sunken living room with big, fluffy pillows arranged banquette-style incorporated into the architecture of the set. One envious of those sitting literally in the midst of the action of this Donald Margulies-penned play soon will realize that in this production, every seat in the theater is an adventure seat.
If the play’s complete title, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself), seems a mouthful, then witness the unforgettable character of Louis Rougemont himself, played by actor Greg Jackson, who recites a practically book-length narrative (complete with chapter headings) with the ease of parents reading their child a bedtime story. And indeed, it has all the trappings of a Jules-Verne-style read: you are captured, enraptured, and swept away in a whirlpool of excitement, trepidation, and laughter.
Set in Victorian England, among other ports of call, this story transports its stowaway audience to exotic countries, oceans, and cultures with the help of the remarkable Jackson and his two accomplices, actors Laura W. Esposito and A.Z. Kelsey, all three making their Triad Stage debut. It’s hard to pick a favorite: they alternately amaze, astound, and absolutely crack up the audience with their antics. Jackson, an NYC International Fringe Festival award-winner and Off-Broadway veteran, remains the unsinkable Rougemont throughout, but our two sidekicks go in and out of costumes as various characters and sound effect-makers, all so very believably. Perhaps the most memorable character is Bruno (Kelsey), Rougemont’s faithful pooch. Yes, a dog act that would put Wilfred to shame.
Director Wineman (also making her TS debut), whose New York City credits include the world premiere of Jose Rivera’s “Lessons for an Unaccustomed Bride,” calls this play “a true playground onstage.” And what a playground. There’s beautiful and mesmerizing shadow play that could be a show in itself, rocking and rolling ship shenanigans, and, in the end, a kind of turtle horsey-ride that will prove (or disprove, depending on your perspective) all of Rougemont’s tales. The audience hangs on every fantastic detail of this character’s life, from sickly child, to renowned hero, to abject outcast.
Simplicity is the word in set design by Timothy R. Mackabee. The stage resembles a ship’s deck – or is it a ship’s belly, or the floor of an Aboriginal hut? Your imagination, your answer. Costumes by UNC-School of the Arts student Kahei Shum continue the simplicity with beautifully tailored suits, professionally wrapped tribal garb, and a passel of headgear. Sound and lighting are beautifully designed by Jeff Russell and Jesse Belsky, respectively. A loving Shipwrecked! informational by dramaturg Bryan Conger makes this playbill a keeper.
You’ll love every single minute, month, year, and decade of Louis de Rougemont’s story. This play will surely go down as a favorite whether you are new to Triad Stage or a long-time fan.
Shipwrecked! continues through Sunday, November 11. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.