Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Michael Countryman
in Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
(© James Leynse)
Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Michael Countryman
in Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
(© James Leynse)
Donald Margulies' Shipwrecked! An Entertainment -- The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself), now getting its New York premiere at Primary Stages, more than lives up to its title. The play is, indeed, an "entertainment" and, further, the adventures he describes are quite wonderfully "amazing."

The tale we're told by Louis de Rougemont (Michael Countryman) is as colorful as it is fanciful. Better yet, it is told in a unique combination of bold strokes and subtle subtext that weaves a greater meaning into the play, making it ultimately a poignant embrace of our need to imagine.

Louis comes out upon the stage at the very start of the play and proceeds to tell us his life's story from his birth to his last triumphant moment in old age. He does it all in 90-action-packed minutes, beautifully paced by director Lisa Peterson, and told with the extraordinary help of actors Jeremy Bobb and Donnetta Lavinia Grays who play a wide assortment of men, women, and animals.

Louis' story includes living alone on a deserted island with his faithful dog, and falling in love with a young Aborigine woman and fathering two daughters with her, Blanche and Gladys. We hear how he saved his adopted tribe of natives from attack by neighboring warriors, and how he eventually made his way back to London after being out in the wild for 30 years, whereupon his story, published in ten installments in a magazine, made him a celebrity of the first rank. If it ended there, the play would have been a delightful piece of puffery, but it's at the height of Louis' fame that the play suddenly changes gears. From thereon, Shipwrecked turns from engaging artifice into breathtaking art.

Countryman gives a splendid performance that is as deliciously broad as it is tenderly nuanced, Bobb is sensational as Louis' dog, Bruno, and Grays shines as a drunken ship's captain. Their work is immeasurably enhanced by this season's most inventive and playful sound design, created by John Gromada, all of it using physical objects rather than electronics or recordings. The costume design by Michael Krass and the lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge are equally instrumental in helping to clearly define the myriad characters played by Bobb and Grays. In short, Shipwrecked! simply and beautifully sails!