"Shipwrecked!" adrift at Serenbe Playhouse

Venturing all the way to and from the Serenbe Playhouse down in Chattahoochee Hills may be tantamount to an epic journey unto itself, but that’s only the tip of your travels. In the Donald Margulies play “Shipwrecked!” we follow a young dreamer’s 30-year voyage from London to the South Pacific and back again.

Ostentatiously subtitled “An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (as Told by Himself),” it’s conceived in the style of Victorian-era carnival sideshow. That makes it an ideal piece of material for the Serenbe troupe, which performs outdoors in various secluded areas of this rustic community, located some 30 miles south of Atlanta.

The play is based on a real person, if possibly not a true story. As a sickly boy, Louis longs to explore the exotic worlds he reads about in books. As a young man, he sets sail on a pearl-diving expedition off the coast of Australia, facing close encounters with giant sea turtles and an octopus. After the titular catastrophe, he spends years marooned on a deserted island, with only his faithful dog for a companion.

He’s eventually rescued and “indoctrinated” by an Aboriginal tribe, where he finds a wife and has a couple of children. When, at long last, the opportunity of a passage to England finally presents itself, de Rougemont can’t resist the urge of home. At first, he’s celebrated as a folk hero whose tale becomes a bestselling serial, but later his reputation is smeared by skeptical academics and reporters.

Between the heat of the summer night in which he’s working and the heat of the dramatic moments he’s recounting, veteran actor Mark Kincaid works up a literal and figurative sweat as the intrepid de Rougemont. With considerable charisma and skill, he grabs our attention and holds it through some of show’s slower stretches, bringing a class to the production that it otherwise lacks in terms of budget or design.

Depicting the sundry walks of life he meets along the way is an ensemble of five “players.” Will Shuler, for instance, is everyone from a silly Queen Victoria to that beloved Bruno, the dog. Some of the actors double as techies of a sort, sitting off to one side of the set using common items to create the show’s sound effects.

Headlining the supporting cast is Minka Wiltz, who deftly portrays a variety of characters and even gets to display her operatic training in isolated musical interludes. Few theatrical sensations can compare to hearing her lilting voice echo through the woods.

Serenbe artistic director Brian Clowdus’ modest staging loses steam and drags the further along it goes. For example, the more frequently he and projection designer Kimi Maeda resort to using shadow-puppet techniques to illustrate de Rougemont’s most vivid recollections, the less clever and effective it becomes.

The minimal production values give “Shipwrecked!” the suitable look of a ragtag roadshow, but de Rougemont initially promises the audience more than that, when he welcomes us into his “temple of the imagination.” In that loftier pursuit, Clowdus and company miss the mark.

Theater review


Grade: B-

Through Aug. 27. 8:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. $15-$20. Serenbe Playhouse (Farmer’s Market Stage), 9110 Selborne Lane, Chattahoochee Hills. 770-463-1110. serenbeplayhouse.com.

Bottom Line: Ultimately adrift.