PlayMakers Repertory Company opened its holiday season with a whimsical adventure story about truth, fiction and the colorful world that can exist between the two.
Steering away from the oversaturated digital age, “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment” celebrates old-fashioned storytelling to trace the real-life fabrications of the Victorian-era explorer Louis de Rougemont.
SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment
PlayMakers REpertory Company
Saturday, Dec. 4
Arts verdict: 4 of 5 stars
Time: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 19
Location: Paul Green Theatre
De Rougemont’s tall tales are delivered in a unique combination of raw theatricality and fluid stage design that bring a greater meaning into the play, making it an ultimately poignant exploration of often-neglected imagination.
Compared to the delicate attention to design, the play’s apparent examination of celebrity culture is nothing more than a few brief inquiries into the validity of de Rougemont’s fabricated tales.
Instead, the often-generic tales of ocean adventure bring well-earned laughs from a younger audience but fail to explore more pressing issues in depth.
The 90 action-packed minutes are a mammoth feat of coordination and collaboration that production director Tom Quaintance makes effortless.
Actors, sound producers and set design flow together seamlessly to create a vivid story on a sparse yet appropriately simple stage.
The static set and continuous character changes — seven actors play more than 80 roles — encourage the audience to fill in the detail of the imaginative stories, playing into the underlying imaginative themes.
As de Rougemont, actor Scott Ripley creates a lively portrait of a man whose naïve charm carries the play’s predictable story line.
Ripley scampers about with wild energy and quick wit, speaking directly to his audience and creating colorful stories with the help of two talented “players.”
Dee Dee Batteast also shines with amazing versatility, playing more than 13 characters ranging from de Rougement’s coddling mother in London to his aboriginal wife in Australia.
Derrick Ledbetter lends comedic charm as an adorable and hilariously lifelike dog, Bruno. His suspicious glances and hyperactive energy add to the play’s family-friendly appeal.
An inventive and playful sound design gives the production a sense of audible place.
In addition to a striking original score by Mark Lewis, the ensemble uses everyday objects like buckets of water, bubble wrap and tin foil — rather than electronics or recordings — to create perfectly timed narrative sounds.
Conjuring up everything from the fury of a storm at sea to the tranquility of a starry night, the sounds take on increased importance in a production where props and set design are at a minimum.
As the adventures end and de Rougemont’s time in the limelight fades away, the play comes to an unexpected halt.
“Shipwrecked!” creatively sails into the abyss of yet another ocean adventure story — familiar, yet ultimately enjoyable in its own fashion.
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