Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hubris on the high seas

“Shipwrecked” sets sail with exuberant charm for the whole family

Express Staff Writer

Adrian Rieder, as the charlatan, Louis, with the wily captain played by Andrew Alburger, discuss shipping news.
Courtesy photo by Kirsten Shultz

    "Shipwrecked!” manages to do with precise direction, simple props, inexhaustible actors and intimately crafted music what 3D filmmakers throw millions of dollars, teams of artists and big-name celebrities behind to engage a similar audience.
       The latest production from Company of Fools is a family pleaser written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, opening Dec. 11, with a Pay What You Feel night at 7 p.m. at the Liberty Theater in Hailey. The show continues most nights through Dec. 29.
    “Shipwrecked!” is the story of Louis (pronounced Louie) de Rougemont, a real-life Victorian gentleman who surfaced in British newspapers in 1898, with an incredible story of 30 years of adventure in the Australian outback. But like many stories too fantastic, it was investigated, turning up the real yawn-worthy existence of a poor Swiss immigrant butler, who gleaned the vicarious life of his employer, the lieutenant governor of Western Australia.
    Failing at many things, Louis found his voice in the retelling of other people’s glory days. His abandoned family and disgruntled customers debunked his version after seeing his picture in the papers. Even then, he would offer to demonstrate his turtle-riding skills to prove his authenticity. He died a beggar in 1921.
    It was the debunking that drew Margulies to explore the charlatan’s life.
    “The tale he told is so captivating that it raises the question, ‘How significant is it that it was made up when the pleasure of the journey was so powerful?’”
    At the Company of Fools, four actors portray more than 30 different characters in this wildly theatrical production. Set designer Joe Lavigne has created a set that resembles a Victorian pop-up book, complete with beautiful illustrations by local artist Keith Joe Dick. Adding to the magic, costume designer and Boise State University professor Darrin Pufall has created whimsical costumes that capture de Rougemont’s outlandish adventures.
    The cast, under the direction of Core Company Artist John Glenn, features Company actors Andrew Alburger and Jana Arnold, as well as guest actors Suzanne Gray (making her COF debut) and Adrian Rieder (as de Rougemont). Rounding out the creative team for “Shipwrecked!” are Ted Macklin (sound designer), Ann Price (dialect coach), R.L. Rowsey (original music) and K.O. Ogilvie (stage manager).
    At a recent rehearsal, a mere four days into production, the synergy was electric. The actors were over-prepared, considering how early in the process it was.
     Watching John Glenn work is like watching a long rope burn toward a powder keg. A simple spark of creativity, fed by the cast like the wind carries a flame, wiggles along the wick until it hits its target and explodes into exactly what the scene needed.
    In one scene, for example, Alburger and Arnold are improvising a current with blue streams of fabric fluttering calf-high around Rieder and Gray (as Bruno the dog) as they abandon ship. The center act is mesmerizing thanks to the enthusiasm of Gray and the charisma of Rieder, who passionately deliver their lines as though it were opening night.
    With a “hold it” and praise, Glenn gently guides Alburger and
Arnold to try moving the fabric a little higher, a little wavier. Without question, the pair engage each other and begin to find their rhythm. Alburger playfully hums the theme song from “Hawaii Five-0”. Then, just like that, they have created a most convincing set of waves. And as the waves pull and surge at the drowning pair so convincingly in their struggle to survive that you might sweat a little, the tinkling of the keys by R.L. Rowsey comes in to fill in the blanks in sound, simulating the sound of seashells tumbling with the tide onto the sand, finishing the thoughts of the unspoken dialogue and delivering the pair to a beach.
    During a quick break, the actors admitted they had no idea how demanding the roles would be, but as Rieder said, “It’s such a love letter to theater as a medium,” everyone is drawn to play hard.
    Ogilvie set down one of her furiously moving pencils with which she was penning notes and sidenotes to herself and grinned, “It’s gonna be challenging.”
    Alburger penned a sea chantey just for the show. Rowsey said it is the chemistry of the cast that allows him to meld his music to the story, even though he had the option of using a recorded track.
    “Music is really a fifth character,” Ogilvie agreed.
     Rowsey also was drawn to the simplicity of the props, a ladder as a ship, which he said will open paths of imagination in all ages.
    Gray said her highest order is to stay present with each character, and just as enthusiastic about each one.
    “It’s good to see the nuts and bolts,” Arnold joked, buoyed by the collaboration. “We’re the nuts.”
    But working with such deliberate direction that also encourages discovery adds weight to their jobs, she admitted.
    “We show up as committed to one line as we are to another, one scene as much as the next,” she said.
    It’s the willing silly within the cast that brings out Glenn’s inspired touches.
    “Margulies leaves this open to our interpretation, we get to be like children playing with whatever is around and enjoying what happens.”    
    In addition to 15 public performances, Company of Fools will also offer five student matinees for elementary school student groups (grades 3 and up) from across the Wood River Valley. Approximately 1,200 students will attend these special performances.
    The audience is sure to be taken on a wild and whimsical ride from the moment they take their seats, because when a story excites the crew like this one, it’s an irresistible kind of magic that no computer can simulate.

Climb aboard
- Tickets—In person: The Liberty Theatre, Main Street, Hailey. Online: By phone: 578-9122.
- Shows run Wednesday, Dec. 11, through Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Dec. 17, through Saturday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 22, at 3 p.m.; Monday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m.; Thursday, Dec. 26, through Saturday, Dec. 28, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 29, at 3 p.m.
- Cost: $25 for Sun Valley Center for the Arts members, $35 for non-members. $25 seniors, $10 students and $25 each for a group of six or more.
- For a little less loot consider: Pay What You Feel on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Also 10 for $10, sold one hour before the show each night, limit two tickets per person. Educator Night, Wednesday, Dec. 18. $10 tickets.


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