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Shipwrecked! a Perfect Escape

by Rachele Stoops

“A good story….serves at least two purposes: it helps you escape your world during its telling, and it helps you relate to your world after it’s finished.”

Tyler Rinne, director of Shipwrecked! an Entertainment, opening this weekend at Community Players in Beatrice, aptly describes the magic of storytelling. The blustery Valentine’s evening didn’t keep the large audience from following Rinne and his talented cast on Louis de Rougemont’s outlandish journey. 

The show opens with Louis de Rougemont, played with charisma and charm by Community Players regular Jeff Porter, speaking to the audience, imploring them to listen to the tale of his adventure. Rougemont tells his fantastic story directly to the people in the seats, aided by the more than capable Players One and Two (Tina Rowe and Brandon Clark, respectively), who between the two of them play every other character de Rougemont encounters. 

The production is choreographed brilliantly, with most costume changes and prop swaps taking place in full view of the audience. Many of the items on stage serve double duty, which adds to the feeling that the audience is privy to the mind of an imaginative child. Trunks become animals, and brooms become people and then oars and then people again. Each actor began the show in a base costume appropriate for the time period, the latter half of the 19th century, and other costume pieces are added and removed as the Players changed characters quickly. 

The set, a beautifully simple backdrop of painted waves behind a primitive-style wooden flat, is the ideal setting for the story, which sometimes feels almost like a dance. Never does the action lag or feel rushed. Porter, probably like de Rougemont himself, is so thoroughly convinced and convincing of his story that it’s impossible not to take the journey with him. The audience spontaneously applauded, giggled, gasped (Bruno the dog!), and, most importantly, were thoroughly entertained. 

Rowe and Clark, assisted by a costumed tech crew, know exactly what to move and when to move it. Rowe is occasionally difficult to hear (the actors are not mic’d), but otherwise every detail is spot-on, from the authentic sounding crackling of the pre-show recorded announcement to the use of the metal thunder sheet for the storm sound. Jamie Ulmer’s light design adds depth to the simple stage, coloring the sketched backdrop when the waves are the focus, and drawing the audience’s attention to each chapter. 

As entertaining as Louis de Rougemont’s tale is, the bigger story in Shipwrecked! is the meaning of truth itself. Louis de Rougemont’s story was first praised, then discounted, but he spent his days clinging stubbornly to the tale of shipwreck and rescue and heroism. You can Google the details of de Rougemont’s life, or you can choose to lose yourself in the imagination of Louis, who was, if nothing else, an extravagant storyteller. Tyler Rinne and his cast and crew definitely live up to de Rougemont’s legacy of tremendous and implausible yarn-spinning. 

In his director’s note, Tyler Rinne wonders if de Rougemont’s vivid imagination was an effort to avoid a mediocre legacy. Community Players’ production of Shipwrecked! is a beautiful addition to their legacy, which is anything but mediocre. Don’t miss the chance to experience Louis de Rougemont’s story, and maybe even consider telling your own. 

If you go: Remaining performances of Shipwrecked! an Entertainment are February 16 and 23 at 2:00 pm, and February 21 and 22 at 7:30 pm at Community Players (412 Ella Street in Beatrice). Tickets are available online and at the box office prior to shows (when availability allows).

Rachele Stoops is an English and theatre teacher at Bryan Community Focus Program, and is on the board of the Nebraska Association of Community Theatres.  She has three fantastic almost-grown-up offspring, and a chihuahua named Cecil.  Rachele is currently working on her doctorate in Educational Research through Doane University.  In her spare time, she enjoys karaoke, baking, and talking about how busy she is.

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