BY BRADLEY AKERS AND KAITI BARTA
Event: Shipwrecked! An Entertainment
Venue: Players by the Sea, 106 6th St. N., Jacksonville Beach
Date: June 3-June 18
Read the Dual Critics review at: https://folioweekly.com/2016/06/05/shipwrecked-an-entertainment-the-amazing-adventures-of-louis-de-rougemont-as-told-by-himself/
How can three people journey from 18th Century England to a cluster of islands off the coast of Australia by way of an old pearling boat and aboard the backs of sea turtles in just a short hour? Players by the Sea’s latest production, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself) is an exciting, family-friendly, theatrical romp told by the mischievous (and historically true) Louis de Rougemont. With his two sidekicks, who intricately play up to 40 characters apiece, the audience is whisked away into the very whirlpool that hurled Rougemont and his ship onto a small island.
Louis de Rougemont was thrust into the spotlight in 1898 when he was featured in the British publication The Wide World Magazine. The magazine explored Rougemont’s life, and the astounding adventures he had while allegedly spending thirty years as a castaway among the aborigines of Australia. Despite the masses being enamored, it wasn’t long until others felt there was something fishy going on.
Rougemont, originally born Henri Louis Grin, was no stranger to oddity. With none of his previous endeavors taking off, he turned to something new, something dangerously delicious: concocting his life story. He presented himself as Louis de Rougemont, and from that moment on, “Truth is stranger than fiction” became the only motto to describe him. The Wide World Magazine scooped him up in hopes that his tales would bring the company popularity. In an 8-month-long series, Wide World published ‘The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont’. The whimsical stories became even more popular when graphic illustrator A. Pearce started adding sketches to the publications. The articles were republished as The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont, as Told by Himself.
Newspapers in both England and Australia began to doubt de Rougemont’s capricious accounts. Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph contacted Eliza Ravenscroft, and she identified him as her vanished husband, Henri Louis Grin. The same fame Grin craved was his downfall. By 1899, he was a music-hall attraction in South Africa as “The greatest liar on earth”. He attempted to prove his adventures by “turtle-riding demonstrations” but the gig was up.
Though the power of theatre magic, Players by the Sea’s Bradley Akers interviewed Louis de Rougemont and his exciting adventures. “My adventures are so wildly entertaining that no person should have the opportunity to miss out! I am joined by the ever wonderful Players, Kasi Walters and Tamara Arapovic who will be helping me take this journey.”
The story, which is broken up into chapters from the 8 month series published in 1898, is told directly to the audience by Rougemont. How do three people visually tell this intricate and colorful journey? “Just as I told those who tried to doubt my fantastic story, ‘Use your powerful imagination!’ The excitement of this joyous retelling is that we use anything from the theatre that we can get our hands on to symbolize the real object! For instance, beautiful long pieces of brightly colored fabric create the giant sea monster that I encountered when my ship went into a whirlpool,” Rougemont explains with a child-like grin.
The use of objects found in the theatre allow the audience to travel back in time and use their powerful imaginations, an element that is perfect for every kid—even the kid inside the adult! The actors and Rougemont also use shadow puppets to fit some of the larger scale items onto a small stage. Rougemont comments, “We have to be incredibly creative! In the world today, we can easily see anything we want to with the touch of a button. We have to show the audience Paris and a large ship, just to name a few. We’ve gotten quite good at shadow puppetry!”
Players by the Sea is offering a round-trip, entertaining adventure filled with elements to make any imagination soar. Shipwrecked! An Entertainment is onstage at Players by the Sea from June 3-June 18. Tickets range from $10-$23. “Every word of it is true, dear audience,” says Rougemont.