Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shipwrecked! at Centerstage

Foley, Fanfare, and Fantasy
by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Elinor Gunn, Chris Shea, Terry Edward Moore   Photos by  Michelle Smith Lewis

Imagine, if you will, sitting in a Victorian theater in fin de siecle England being regaled by a man who took to sea as a youth and emerged three decades later with a swashbuckling tale that defies belief. That, in a nutshell, is the premise of the fulsomly titled SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment. The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself) now playing at Centerstage.

Directed by Roger Curtis, who also directed Jack and the Beanstalk and Aladdin, it’s not surprising that it has some of the upbeat feel of a Panto.

The action begins with Louis de Rougemont himself stepping out on stage and introducing himself to us, the audience. Adroitly crafted by Terry Edward Moore, he graciously welcomes us to the story of his life, then launches into the tale, acting it out as he goes.

    Terry Edward Moore (center). L to R: Chris Shea, Elinor Gunn 

Moore does a superb job of becoming the charismatic and picaresque de Rougemont. Starting from his sickly childhood at his mother’s side, his story drags us along through a stint on a Coral Sea pearl hunting boat and a storm induced shipwreck in which he and the captain’s dog are the only survivors. Left washed up on a deserted shore, he eventually saves three lost aboriginals, bonds, and returns with them to their homeland, where he, of course, becomes something of a hero.

Through it all, his story is amplified by two fellow actors. As good as Moore was, his two sidekicks quite litterally ran circles around him.

Watching the amazing Elinor Gunn and Chris Shea spin through a dizzying array of characters, both human and canine, was captivating. In the space of a second or two they’d change gender, personality, action, and voice, go up and down levels and ladders, and grab (and discard) a staggering stream of clever props, costume pieces, and headgear. Think of the character changes of Shakespeare Abridged or 39 Steps coupled with the gaudy energy and splashy accoutrements of a Panto and you’ll have some idea of what they offer.

  L to R: Terry Edward Moore, Elinor Gunn, Chris Shea 

Gunn went smoothly from mother to publisher to waif to ship captain, and dozens of others, all without a flaw. Ditto for Shea, who took on tars, gents, suffed shirts, primatives, and a variety of femmes, both fatale and elegant. His repeated appearance as Louis’ trusty canine companion, coupled with short shots of him as either a fetching or prim woman, were alone worth the price of admission.

Together they filled the stage with all the sounds, characters, and props needed to flesh out de Rougemont’s tale and make it come to life audibly and visually. In short, they were wonderful.  

But wait; there’s more. In spite of the heavy and atheletic character load, they find the time to also provide all the play’s elucidating sound effects. Armed with an array of gizmos and period machines, they create sea gulls, waves, rain, thunder, falling masts, and all the sounds of London, Australia, and an island of primatives. They’re living proof that fancy sound programs in use today have nothing on a pair of skilled Foley artists.

A huge range of innovative, often makeshift, costumes by Rachel Wilkie, including an ungodly number of hats, helped the actors transform roles, often using as little as one item of clothing or gear. Cunning lighting changes by Amy Silveria offered everything from the suble change in an oil lamp being blown out indoors to dark skies, hot sun, and even an underwater scene. It’s all done on a clever set by Benjamin Baird that works as home, theater, ship, island, and street scene, replete with trapdoors for fire pit, buried treasure, and a hot bath. There’s even a shadow puppet screen that, among other things, let’s us watch a giant octopus take down a sailing ship.  

Of course, if you shy away from bombast, high energy exposition, frivolous folderol, and “squash-buckling tomfoolery,” this may not be your cup of tea. Even so, you’d miss some of the finest performaces I’ve seen from three incredibly tallented actors.

For those who love the tall tale told first hand, cast off the present and let Centerstage plop you into a seat anchored firmly in the late 19th century. Sit back while de Rougemont’s thoroughly implausible tale washes over you in all its breathless glory.

SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment. The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself.)
March 20th through April 4th, 2015

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