Millegan Renner: Fun lies in exaggerated story

SONORA -- More than a century before James Frey stretched the truth in his rehab memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont embellished his overseas adventures.

His tall tale is recounted in Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies' 2007 play "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)."

It's difficult not to love de Rougemont as he is portrayed by the charming Scott Wakefield in Sierra Repertory Theatre's very funny new production. As the character says in the show, he is only trying to add some color to an otherwise gray world.

In keeping with the playwright's wishes, director Scott Viets presents the show in a deliberately low-tech fashion. John Iacovelli's set looks like a cluttered warehouse. Vanessa Leuck's Victorian-era costumes are hung in full view of the audience, props are retrieved from onstage trunks and key scenes are portrayed with shadow puppets.

It takes some getting used to at first, but before long, you become lost in the story and nearly forget you are watching a play.

Christopher Van Tuyl makes the show more engaging with spectacular lighting effects simulating a thunderstorm at sea.

Wakefield enters the stage in the bright red garb of a circus ringmaster. He talks directly to the audience about his journey to exotic Pacific islands; his life with the natives, who considered him a god (their word, he says); and his encounters with a man-eating octopus.

Though there are four other performers in the show, Wakefield carries the main burden of presenting the story. A Broadway veteran ("Ring of Fire"), he is more than up to the task and stirs up excitement with his wild enthusiasm, pointed looks and hilarious acrobatics.

Philip D'Amore nearly steals the show with his portrayal of de Rougemont's faithful dog. He gets tons of laughs with his panting, barking and tail-wagging.

Beverly Sotello offers broad characterizations of de Rougemont's mother and his aboriginal wife. Kyla Meyer and Devon Martin back up the main actors by making sound effects and playing minor roles.

The main (but minor) drawback to the show is that the cast members sometimes resort to yelling to get the audience's attention. They should be more confident that they are interesting enough in normal speaking tones.

This production likely will not be well-attended because of the unfamiliar title. But those who take a chance with it will be rewarded with some creative theatrics. Wednesday's small matinee audience gave the cast a standing ovation.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at or 578-2313.