Must-see ‘Shipwrecked!’

Peter D. KramerThe Journal News

It goes by an unwieldy title, but “Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)” is storytelling, pure and simple.

See Donald Margulies’ spellbinder through the eyes of a seven-year-old and you’ll remember the bliss of suspended disbelief, when a man can don a ski cap and convince you he’s a dog, or circle the stage on a mechanic’s creeper and become a South Seas pearldiver.

Actually, you don’t need the seven-year-old, but it helps. And the kid’ll get a kick out of it.

Under the exquisite direction of Tom Caruso — whose Penguin Rep productions of “Over the Tavern” and “Greetings!” have tickled audiences the last couple of years — “Shipwrecked!” (at Penguin through Sept. 4) is more akin to last season’s charming “Around the World in 80 Days,” which Caruso also directed.

Both “Shipwrecked!” and “80 Days” are short of cast members and long on well-rewarded imagination.

Steven Hauck leads the cast of three as Louis de Rougemont, an honest-to- goodness character who wowed Victorian London — and Queen Victoria, herself — in the 1890’s with his stories of wombats, giant octopus, sea turtles and being shipwrecked for 30 years.

“I lived it,” de Rougemont intones at the outset, in a veddy British accent.

We learn he grew up a sickly boy who devoured adventure books and yearned to inhabit their worlds.

And we are off.

Hauck narrates Margulies’ lean script with dispatch, excitedly spinning his yarn and pulling the audience in. Before long, he’s cartwheeling and doing handstands, in a performance that manages to be energetic and nuanced.

It falls to Edena Hines and David Arkema to fill the stage with de Rougemont’s story, as a host of characters.

Hines is Louis’ mother, the drunken Capt. Jensen, the lovely Yamba, an Australian prospector, publisher Fitzgerald, a society lady, a London mother, an octopus expert, a mapmaker, a questioning reporter and Dr. Leopold.

Arkema is a barkeep, Bruno the faithful dog, Gunda an aboriginal old man, Bobo an aboriginal young man, an Australian prospector, a society lady, Albert a London boy, Queen Victoria, a turtle expert, a wombat expert, a librarian, a pickpocket, a newsboy, a reporter and a lawyer.

They shift efficiently and seamlessly from character to character, sometimes with a mask, other times with a snippet of costume.

In the case of Bruno the dog, the exceptional Arkema needs only to put on a wool cap, stick out his tongue and widen his eyes to create an an unforgettable pup.

Hines, a fine actress, brings depth to Yamba, her eyes brimming with tears as she sees her homeland.

They use every prop at their disposal on Sarah Lambert’s well-appointed set — turning a ladder into the creaking wreckage of a ship, or a bathtub, for example — and Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes add dimension to the ride.

Patrick Metzger’s soundscape provides captivating underscoring throughout, giving the play a cinematic feel and a whole other dimension and heft.

Margulies, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for “Dinner with Friends,” spins a wonderful adventure over the course of 75 minutes and then things turn south for de Rougement, whose accounts are brought into question.

In the final quarter-hour of the intermissionless show, we come to wonder about the events we’ve wondered at. Did they really happen?

Having been the toast of London, regaling queen and all with tales of his exploits, de Rougemont becomes the flavor of the month, in a twist that contemporary audiences can certainly appreciate.

Hauck expertly mines this change of fate with a haunted quality, a man whose grip is loosening, but who remains steadfast.

“Shipwrecked!” is sure to delight those younger than 10 — and those whose imaginations allow them to remember what that age was like.

It is a tale well told.

(P.S. After the show, stop beside the exit to see a photo of the actual Louis de Rougemont riding a sea turtle, a feat the experts declared impossible, and decide whether you believe his story or not.)

“Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)” Through Sept. 4. 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m., Saturdays; 2 p.m., Sundays. Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point.$34, $20 for students. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more. 845-786-2873. Go to the Penguin Rep website. Note: A post-show Q&A follows the Aug. 19 performance. A tasting from a local restaurant precedes the Aug. 20 matinee.

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