by DICK KEREKES
Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened the very unique Shipwrecked! (The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont as told by himself) last weekend with run date till May 10th.The Hipp is located at 25 SE 2nd in downtown Gainesville call (352) 375-HIPP) or visit their website at www.thehipp.org.
This production is truly a magical escape for the entire family and is a good example of storytelling and its ability to stimulate the imagination.
Playwright Donald Margulies was commissioned to do this as a children’s play but it has been a hit with adults as well, and they made up most of the Saturday matinee audience last weekend.
It is the story of an 1890’s conman in London who charmed newspaper readers with a serialized version of his fabricated South Seas survival story.
Actor Tod Zimmerman as Louis tells the tale while performing on a bare octagonal stage on the stage. He starts with Louis as an impoverished 16 year old leaving home and signing on to an Australia bound pearl diving adventure. He winds up shipwrecked and marooned on an island with only his dog. He saves an aborigine family and marries their daughter Yamba, and raises a family. He lived there 30 years, and had many adventures like an encounter with a man eating octopus, riding turtles, leading battles between the native tribes. He is rescued by some prospectors and comes back to England where sells his story for publication.
Zimmerman’s remarkable performance (he has 90% of the lines), is aided by Tara Vodihn as Player #1 and Cameron Francis as Play # 2. Ms. Vodihn plays a variety of roles including Louis’s wife, mother, the sea captain, the list goes on and one. Likewise Mr. Francis does multi roles, male and female but he is at his best as the dog, a role he does the longest. By golly he was so realistic in his gestures; I would recommend him to play Sandy in any production of Annie.
There are two other members of the cast, but apparently not officially. They wear black clothing and have hats that say crew, and they contributed verbal sound effects, play natives, run the wind machine, wave spears and in general are around all the time. For some strange reason, they are not even listed in the program anywhere and apparently must not be equity actors. Whoever you were, you were very good.
This play has to be a Stage Manager’s nightmare (Lizz Nehls) with dozens of light and sound cues, and dealing computer operators apparently doing these functions. They were at least 98% accurate. At one point, a sound person apparently hit a wrong button and a gun shot went off.
There are no guns at all in the show so it was a true surprise and did not fit the action on stage.
Director Lauren Caldwell did a marvelous first rate job of directing and the stage movements are truly a visual delight and certainly captured the illusions of the excellent script
I usually don’t disclose the ending, but I will in this case. Louis’s tale is questioned by critics, and it was proven that he was really living in a city in Australia at the time and it was concluded it was his imagination that made up the stories. As a child, is mother had read to him from “Robison Crusoe “and “Treasure Island” so this was considered the source of his adventures. De Rougemont lost his fortune but the ending is upbeat as Louis rides off on a sea turtle which will satisfy the children who attend.
In this day of so much video exposure, we don’t use our powers of imagination. Shipwrecked will revive this talent with which we are all endowed. This is a truly unique theatre experience so expertly done by the award winning Hippodrome Theatre. I highly recommend this production and take the children of all ages, they will love it.
by DICK KEREKES