(l-r) Bob Linebarger, Charles Fugate and Megan Herrera. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder/Spinning Tree Theatre.
Review: SHIPWRECKED! at Spinning Tree Theatre
By Marie Warner
SHIPWRECKED! AN ENTERTAINMENT- THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) is a high-energy romp that takes its audience on a journey from 1860’s London to the Australian outback and everywhere in between. Using just three actors, and minimal staging, Spinning Tree Theatre has created a wonderfully unique production that captures the audience’s attention and imagination from the very first.
SHIPWRECKED! is based on the life of Louis de Rougemont, who leaves home at the tender age of 16 for adventure on the high seas. Spoiler alert: His ship gets wrecked. The bulk of the production deals with de Rougemont’s survival on an island, his later life with an aboriginal tribe in the Australian Outback, and eventual rescue.
This is a fascinating tale in its own right, but the beauty of SHIPWRECKED! is in the execution. The cast is comprised of three actors, with Charles Fugate as Louis de Rougemont, and Megan Herrera and Bob Linebarger as everyone—and everything—else. Herrera and Linebarger constantly change characters and utilize a variety of household objects to embellish de Rougemont’s tale. Pieces of rope become jellyfish, a ladder becomes the mast of a ship, and mops become hilarious hostile natives. The lighting design is wonderful and perfectly complements the story. The moment the sickly child de Rougemont felt the sun on his face for the first time was absolutely lovely.
Charles Fugate carries the bulk of the text and shines as the eccentric, boyish de Rougemont. We get a very strong sense of the changes and growth of the character throughout his journey, as well as being treated to a number of acrobatic displays. The energy and focus of Megan Herrera and Bob Linebarger are incredible and they steal several scenes. Herrera is particularly effective and humorous as a foul-tempered sea captain and exhibits impressive physicality throughout. Linebarger is compelling as a dog named Bruno, and I especially loved him in a poignant moment as a small boy named Albert. This cast commits to the concept and their characters so completely. In the hands of lesser actors, SHIPWRECKED! could easily run aground.
SHIPWRECKED! moves with a brisk—at times nearly frantic—pace. This changes upon de Rougemont’s return to London. The shift from the frenzy and humor of island life to the more serious themes of his return home felt quite abrupt. The pace faltered a bit in this section as de Rougemont’s fantastical tale is first met with adulation, but soon begins to unravel. We are forced to ask ourselves if we believe him. If a story is captivating, does it really matter if it’s strictly true? Is de Rougemont an intrepid adventurer who lived through a thirty-year exile? Or is he a charlatan who learned about Australia in the reading room of the British Museum? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the murky middle.
If you are looking for a serious examination of truth and the pitfalls of celebrity, SHIPWRECKED! is not for you. If you are looking for a wildly imaginative production that allows its audience to suspend their disbelief and get caught up in a world where wombats fly up in a cloud, where acrobatics can bridge cultures, where men can ride sea turtles through the deep water, head to Spinning Tree.