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Entertaining, creative, thoughtful, funny - all these apply to the smashing production of SHIPWRECKED! by Donald Margulies now playing at Vermont Stage Company. The play is based on the true-life story of the rise and fall of Louis de Rougemont, whose stories of his adventures held the Victorian public in thrall. Director Mark Nash has come up with a splendidly theatrical take on the narration by Louis, ably assisted by two versatile actors and a terrific soundman.
The playing space is set up as a proscenium theatre, with John Paul Devlin's playable set consisting of a rectangular platform and back-drop, with large hanging maps to the right and an open shed filled with sound equipment including a pump organ to the left. Other set pieces come and go, sometimes in miniature.
Being able to see Sound Designer and Foley Artist Joel Abbott produce the appropriate sound effects is an unexpected treat. If you're wondering what a Foley Artist is, they work mostly in film and match sound to action. Just watch this play's typewriter sequence.
Rachel Kurland's costumes are theatrical and versatile and a couple are hilarious. Sue Wade has done a great job with the props, as has Heather Nielsen with the masks and puppets. I particularly liked the octopus. Kyle Stetson's lighting is excellent. After all, what could be bad about a designer who thanks his cat?
Chris Caswell and Edgar L. Davis between them play a multitude of characters, sometimes with lightning fast changes. Miss Caswell is especially effective as a native maiden and is impressive in the paper buying sequence. Mr. Davis is terrific as Louis' faithful dog Bruno. Their tea ladies scene together and their native story telling are a hoot.
Ethan T. Bowen, with his piercing eyes that hold a glint of madness, gives a wonderful performance as Louis. He has the audience from his first referral to us as "humming-bird-hearted creatures" to his powerful and moving final moments. His acrobatics and stilt walking are startling and his duets with Bruno are a riot, as is his scene with Queen Victoria.
Director Mark Nash has done a masterful job of staging and directing, including a brief pre-show that sets up the piece's theatricality. He's obviously got a great sense of humor that is particularly evident in the staging of the often-frenzied character changes. However, he never loses sight of the fact that Louis is a man not only telling a thrilling story, but also defending his imagination and life.
At an hour and a half with no intermission, the play flies by. To give the production its full title, SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment - The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself), is a terrific evening of theatre. By sure to get to it soon, in case Garrison Keeler steals the soundman.
Don't think I've gotten soft on criticism - I've just seen a couple of very good ones in a row. On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage Company production of SHIPWRECKED! gets five ferryboats. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.