Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Shark is Broken - Broadway

I am a huge fan of Jaws.  I devoured the 1974 novel (which spent 44 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list).  In the summer of 1975 I was one of hundreds of screaming movie goers that jammed a theater in East Brunswick, NJ to watch the movie (to this day, almost 50 years later, I am still leery of swimming in the ocean).

All of this is to say I was excited and intrigued about the three-person play, The Shark is Broken, written and starring Ian Shaw (along with Joseph Nixon), son of Jaws star Robert Shaw, who so memorably portrayed Quint in the film.  The show imagines the interactions, tensions and musings of the movie’s three stars - Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman), Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell) and Robert Shaw.  They emote, yell and reflect on a number of topics but, primarily, how much they hate the constant waiting and boredom for either favorable weather conditions or repairs to the constantly malfunctioning mechanical shark.

The 90 minute, intermission-less, production is basically a constant gabfest – three characters aboard a cramped, floating fishing boat, meticulously rendered by Scenic Designer Duncan Henderson and aided by John Clark’s muted Lighting Design and Nina Dunn’s reflective projections.  Director Guy Masterson varies the action on stage to keep the encounters and skirmishes fresh and varied.  He has the three clambering onto the board to start scenes, which are staged in partial blackout.  At one point the hard-drinking Shaw climbs atop the Orca (the vessel’s name), face to the wind, almost challenging the elements to a fight.  In another scene, a very buff Colin Donnell strips down to his skivvies for a quick bit of sunbathing.  All these maneuverings are diverting, at best, but still don’t mask the fact that The Shark is Broken, even for diehard fans like myself, can feel tedious and strained.

Each of the three cast members has brought their true-life characters to believable life.  Alex Brightman, known more for his off-beat musical theater roles (School of Rock, Beetlejuice), truly embodies the actor Richard Dreyfuss with his nervous energy, self-doubts and vainness.  Playwright Ian Shaw is the spitting image of his father and delivers a crusty, hardscrabble performance.  Colin Donnell’s Roy Scheider rests somewhere between the other two performers.  He brings a mellowness and low key portrayal that helps balance the production.

The Shark is Broken, a beguiling idea that, in the end, is rather long in the [shark] tooth.

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