Shipwrecked Review - Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Award-winner playwright Donald Margulies has let his fancy fly free in this sort-of true tale of the life and adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as told by himself). Yes, it’s true that there really was a Louis de Rougemont – but he may also have been the biggest con-man of his century. In 1898, he received instant notoriety when he published his memoire regaling the public about his adventures in the Australian Outback. As the Wide World Magazine, which published his story, opined, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but de Rougemont is stranger than both.”

Laurine Price, Nick Ley, and Jud Williford - Photo by Tracey Roman

De Rougemont’s meteoric rise was simply too fast for some, and they embarked on an investigation of his past. What they found was striking indeed. His real name was Henri Louis Grien, a poor Swiss immigrant to Australia who worked as a butler for the Lieutenant-Governor of Western Australia. While he was working, his active and imaginative mind was fascinated by the tales of others – tales which he eventually incorporated into his own life. But, like a meteor, his rapid rise led to a rapid fall when the truth of his background came out. In 1921, he died a beggar by yet a third name, Louis Redmond.

Jud Williford and Nick Ley - Photo by Tracey Roman

When a master playwright like Donald Margulies encountered the astounding tale of de Rougemont, his creative juices began to flow. When asked about SHIPWRECKED, he remarked, “The magic of theatre is its power to astonish, but astonishment can occur only if the audience is willing to suspend its aim was to capture the attention of the hidden child in everyone.”

Jud Williford and Laurine Price - Photo by Tracey Roman

And capture it he does in this terrific production of SHIPWRECKED. The adventure begins when de Rougemont (Jud Williford) is only a young boy, sickly and unable to run and play with the other kids. How he longs to have some adventures. At 17, he leaves the warmth of his loving home and moves on – first to hunt for pearls on a sailing ship. Unfortunately, storms interfere, and he finds himself shipwrecked on an island. Except for his trusty hound, he’s all alone until he encounters three other shipwreck victims, an aborigine woman and her father and brother. Years go by and adventures escalate with de Rougemont becoming king and leader of a cannibal tribe. Finally, he succumbs to homesickness and decides to return to merry old English – but even here adventures continue as he treks across the Australian Outback. London proves a welcome surprise for the adventuresome man, who attains fame and fortune before the big fall.

Nick Ley, Laurine Price, and Jud Williford - Photo by Tracey Roman

The play has dozens of roles, all expertly played by Laurine Price and Nick Ley! SHIPWRECKED is a very physical play which relies on imagination, creativity, and the extraordinarily talented principals to draw the audience into a real-life adventure interspersed with laughs and brimming with excitement. Director Luke Yankee has his hands full helming this active and intriguing production as actors constantly change identities, props fly through the air, and things steam along a mile a minute.

Jud Williford as Louis de Rougemont - Photo by Tracey Roman

Tesshi Nakagawa’s scenic design is simple but also complex, with lighting (Donna Ruzika), costumes (Kim DeShazo), sound (Dave Mickey), and property designs (Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles) equally important in making this an adventure which holds the audience in its grip. Finally, a play suitable for everyone in the family – from 9 to 90. All you need is that little child inside all of us waiting for a chance to fly.

SHIPWRECKED – THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT (AS TOLD BY HIMSELF) runs through November 6, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802. Tickets are $49 (Saturdays and Sundays), $47 (Thursdays and Fridays, and $25 (children). For information and reservations, call 562-436-4610 or go online.

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