By John Lyle Belden
“Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both”
– The Wide World Magazine, June 1899 (quoted in Wikipedia)
Louis De Rougemont was an actual 19th-century personality; Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies did not make him up. Whether Mr. De Rougemont invented his “amazing adventures,” though, is another question.
See and judge for yourself at “Shipwrecked: An Entertainment! The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (as Told by Himself),” presented by Carmel Community Players at The Cat, directed by Lori Raffel.
Embodied by local actor Earl Campbell, De Rougemont relates his fantastic story with an ensemble of Vickie Cornelius Phipps, Joe Aiello, Margot Everitt, Jayda Glynn, Hannah Janowicz, and Tom Smith. He tells of being a sickly boy, raised on stories of adventure read to him by his mother (Phipps). As a teen, he meets a sea captain (Phipps again) and leaves home to find adventure aboard the good ship Wonderworld, searching for pearls off the coast of Australia. As the title hints, he finds himself wrecked and marooned with the ship’s dog, faithful Bruno (Aiello). His journey back to London will take decades, during which he befriends local Aborigines, marrying one (Phipps yet again). He becomes the toast of Britain when he publishes his adventures, but not everyone believes him.
The basic stage set takes us back to a bare-bones turn-of-the-20th-century hall, appropriately giving free rein to our imaginations as the tale is presented with simple, improvised props. Campbell takes on our hero’s charm and charisma with unwavering boldness. Phipps is sweet and versatile, her talent allowing us not to dwell on the Freudian overtones of her casting. Bruno, a literal scene-chewing role, is taken to with endearing gusto by Aiello, who also gets non-barking characters such as the editor of Wide World Magazine, and Queen Victoria.
Other ensemble members get their moments to shine – Smith as the Aboriginal elder and a Royal Geographic Society skeptic, Janowicz showing mime skills reminiscent of her turn in “The Fantasticks,” Glynn as a Paperboy and the card-turner, and Everitt as an able utility player, as well as the gentle nudge needed when the story goes awry.
When all is said and done, we have the highs and lows of our hero’s journey, as well as a counter-narrative. But wherein is the “truth,” and does it matter? To an audience accustomed to watching “Ancient Aliens” and “inspired by true events” on a screen, the bigger questions feel familiar – even current – despite over a century passing since Wide World published the original story.
So, saddle up your sea turtle and indulge in this entertaining “Entertainment,” opening tonight (Aug. 12) and running through Aug. 21 at The Cat, 254 Veterans Way in downtown Carmel. Get information and tickets at carmelplayers.org.