As an astute reader may surmise from its title, Spinning Tree Theatre’s “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)” is a play in the style of a 19th-century adventure tale, and is, in fact, entertaining.
Spinning Tree gave the play its Kansas City premiere in 2013, and Charles Fugate reprises his role from that production. In the 90-minute show at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, Fugate-as-Rougemont tells the story of his extraordinary life.
After a sheltered childhood, Louis leaves home in search of adventure. He joins a pearling expedition to Australia, where a shipwreck strands him on a desert island with only a dog for company.
His subsequent life in exile includes romance, encounters with the natives, fraternizing with sea turtles and other oddities. When he finally returns to England, he is feted for his story and finds he has become the hero he has always dreamed of being. That is, until the public start to question the particulars of his tall tales.
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Fugate’s energetic narration and salt-and-pepper beard help him project the mixture of gravitas and pluckiness he needs to bring the audience through his tales and into his life’s second act.
Supporting players Megan Herrera and Bob Linebarger split the rest of the roles between them. Linebarger is especially crowd-pleasing in his nonverbal role as the faithful dog. Herrera splits her time between several secondary characters, including Louis’ mother and the swashbuckling ship captain. She keeps the show running smoothly with her consistent changes into high-energy characters.
Directed by Vanessa Severo, the show unfolds with a DIY, vaudevillian flair. The actors stand alone on a nearly empty thrust stage while Nicole Jaja’s lighting design sets the scene, whether it be aboard ship during a storm, under the sea or on a sunlit desert island.
The rest of the world is conjured by Gary Campbell’s versatile props and costumes. Household items are used to imaginative effect, such as skeins of rope as jellyfish, and by changing a hat or donning an apron, the supporting actors can instantly jump from one character to the next.
Though most of the play is exuberant and comical, the denouement takes us somewhere more melancholy and ultimately leaves us on a bittersweet note.
A viewer might wish for some kind of snappier twist or punchline to land on, but the ending serves as the play’s meditation on truth, storytelling and identity. What are the consequences of telling ourselves stories about our selves?