Shipwrecked has a small cast, no big sets or musical numbers, and it's based on an obscure Englishman whose moment in the sun dimmed over 100 years ago. But it's one of the most entertaining shows we've seen this year, and it deserves a wide audience.
The Village Playhouse has never been afraid to be old fashioned, staging many period plays with a stately pace and tone that refuses to pander to modern TV-addled audiences. With Shipwrecked they go further back than usual, to a time when TV was nary but a twinkle in a mad Scotsman's eye and the primo form of entertainment was an onstage narrator, backed by clever lighting, live sound effects, and a cloakroom's worth of props and costumes.
Director Keely Enright packs all this onto a tiny stage and adds a pair of young actors who back up the storyteller by playing dozens of characters. The effect is as electrifying as an early Edison switch-on, with a script that is relevant to 21st century adults and children alike.
College of Charleston theatre professor Evan Parry has found the perfect alter ego as Louis de Rougemont, the would-be showman and sailor who dreams of adventures on the high seas. He finally gets the chance to live his dreams when he sets sail with a pirate captain on a diving expedition. But after a close call with a giant octopus, an underwater search for pearls, and a monsoon, de Rougemont and his faithful canine companion, Bruno, wash up on an island, giving the voyager plenty of time to concoct his tales.
Parry knows just when to be sincere or inject a fresh burst of energy into his performance. He also knows how to pace himself; he's onstage throughout this 100-minute show.
Katherine Chaney plays multiple roles to help make de Rougemont's improbable world a reality, switching costumes and accents in rapid succession. She gives her pirate a Jack Sparrow swagger, her Aborigine a fetching innocence, and her assorted Londoners a cosmopolitan sneer. She's particularly effective as Louis' mother, haunting his hallucinations with her worried voice.
Addison Dent (PURE's Speech & Debate) steals the show with his comically expressive face and spot-on dialects. His parts include Cockney citizens, island savages, a dwarfish Queen Victoria, and best of all, Bruno. With his eyes wide, tongue lolling and rump wagging, Dent conveys the dog's many emotions and gets a lot of laughs from the audience.
Jake Hennessy (Awake and Sing!) and Price Enright Long (A Christmas Story) are the stage assistants, stationed stage left to create sound effects, hold or move props, and augment the yarn-spinning with sporadic shadow puppetry. By adding an effective smattering of music and lighting effects, director Enright fully immerses the audience in de Rougemont's imaginative world.
Technical director David Reinwald's sets are full of surprises, squeezing every bit of potential out of a small space. Julie Ziff's costumes are simple but always appropriate.
We saw this show on opening night, when there were still a few creases to iron out — one or two sound and lighting cues were out of synch with the action. The twist in the story, when we find out that de Rougemont's not all he claims to be, was delivered with a flurry of different props and characters that confused some of the younger audience members. But these are minor issues in a show that provides fun on different levels for all age groups.