note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi
Louis de Rougemont … Allyn Burrows
Player 1 … Angie Jepson
Player 2 … Daniel Berger-Jones
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s holiday offering is Donald Margulies’ SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF), one of those minimalist plays springing up like mushrooms in these budget-conscious times. I trust you know what kind of play I’m talking about, where as few actors as possible impersonate a multitude of characters on a nearly-bare stage (costumes and props, flying all over the place), where a chair becomes a car becomes a tree becomes a chair; where the style is distinctly presentational (“and then I did this” --- WHISK! --- “and then I did that” --- WHISK!), and where the play stops telling its story and becomes a showcase for what its actors can or cannot do (not every actor is protean, you know). I’ve nothing against small-cast plays, provided the actors unfold and deepen rather than split apart like amoebas; Mr. Margulies himself has written two such pieces: COLLECTED STORIES (2 actresses) and the Pulitzer-winning DINNER WITH FRIENDS (2 actors; 2 actresses). Nor have I anything against doubling and tripling up: Bad Habit’s AN IDEAL HUSBAND has two men and two women sprinting through a near-dozen roles, but their transformations take place off-stage rather than on- and give some much-needed oxygen to a warhorse with a solid fourth wall. In SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF), everything happens before you, non-stop, without letting up (it doesn’t help that Scott LaFeber has directed with his own pants a-fire) --- this is similar to watching three Benihana chefs chop-chop-chopping for two hours with technical virtuosity but who send you away, hungry. This may not be the time for large ensembles, but this steady diet of minimal fare now leaves me crying, “Please, sir, I want some more!”
The title SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) says it all as Louis begins as a frail Victorian child in London, goes to sea as a pearl-diver, is shipwrecked on an island with his faithful dog and, after much isolation, finds happiness in the arms of an Aborigine girl; upon returning to London, he becomes a celebrity through magazine-installments of his adventures but is later denounced as a fraud. The real Louis de Rougemont, indeed, made such a name for himself and, yes, he was denounced and died penniless. Mr. Margulies’ Louis presents his case by re-enacting it with two assistants (the approach justifies the minimalism). Having such rich material, ‘tis a pity Mr. Margulies chose not to have a dozen or so exotics pop out of the on-stage trunks in storybook-fashion --- if only visual wonders and delights had been unfolded before us, showing instead of telling! Of course, a fatter SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) would have had to wait for more prosperous times, but it would also have been a more involving work. (The minimalist approach will always defeat the tapestry-weaver.) Nor does Mr. Margulies come to any real conclusion about his Louis --- if his storyteller is a liar, the seeds have not been planted; this is a sweet boy-man, not a rascal. If Louis is delusional to the point where he can’t tell fact from fiction, the threadbare mise-en-scene has failed to seduce us --- we simply don’t see what Louis sees. The resolution concludes within a large glass case that dominates the stage, tacked-on to end SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) on a pseudo-happy note.
As Louis’ two assistants, Daniel Berger-Jones is a tall drink of goofy likeability, and he has a show-stopping cameo as a certain royal personage (though the audience applauds the gimmick, not the character). I have yet to warm up to Angie Jepson, who remains the same cute but chilly wind-up doll that recently declaimed Honey’s lines in the Publick’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?; I have yet to see Ms. Jepson do anything remotely spontaneous. This is the first time I’ve seen Allyn Burrows dominate an evening, and how good of Mr. LaFeber to have given him his moment: there can be no more inviting entrance this season than when this handsome, debonair Louis enters and immediately takes the audience in hand; “come with me” is in his smile, and we follow, gladly. Yet Louis is not quite the vehicle for Mr. Burrows: musically speaking, he is a lyric-baritone and there are passages of heavy-duty Wagner that severely strains his instrument, reducing him to forced good-cheer --- in addition, Mr. LaFeber has directed (allowed?) Mr. Burrows to be just as manic as his assistants are; having caught us up in the beginning, Mr. Burrows then scatters us to the winds. Should you attend SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF), may you have a slower, more relaxed evening than the one I witnessed.
For those who prefer a larger-cast production, there remains A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES (Boston Playwrights’ Theatre/Boston Children’s Theatre; 10 actors) and CHRISTMAS BELLES (Phoenix Theatre Artists/Company One; 11 actors), each with a texture that you can bite into. I cannot imagine either show being done with only three actors --- I salute their producers for having taken their chances for, between these two productions, seven times the number of actors in SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT --- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) are now appearing on Boston stages, this holiday season. Actors have to eat, too, you know.