Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Look Back / A Look Ahead

Posted by Bruce Miller
Phil, Donna, Terrie and I celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the founding of Theatre IV last night at the opening of The Sound of Music. It was on May 14, 1975 that the State Corporation Commission officially recognized Theatre IV's birth as a nonprofit business in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The years have flown by. I can think of no more satisfying way to pay tribute to the past than to sit proudly in that audience, enjoying a magnificent production that so significantly heralds Theatre IV's future.

If you don't have your tickets to The Sound of Music yet, you'd better hurry. It's a terrific show--extraordinarily moving and entertaining. If it doesn't become the smash hit of the season, I'll eat my Tyrolean hat.

The Sound of Music is the final show in Barksdale's (and Theatre IV's) 2009-10 Signature Season. Two days ago, subscriptions went on sale for the 2010-11 Barksdale roster. I'm very proud of the titles that are, as the characters in our first play might say, in the offing. Here's a sneak peek at our new season's opener.

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment - by Donald Margulies

Acting treasures Joe Inscoe and Scott Wichmann appear together for the first time (it's hard to believe, but that's what Scotty tells me) in this thrilling, brand new comic adventure, the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (and current Tony nominee), Donald Margulies.

Margulies is also the author of Brooklyn Boy and Collected Stories (both produced in the last decade at Barksdale) and Dinner with Friends (a relatively recent offering at the Firehouse).

Margulies created this ingenious frolic in response to the recent spate of discredited memoirs, such as A Million Little Pieces, the allegedly nonfiction bestseller penned by James Frey and selected by Oprah Winfrey for her star-maker book club. Shipwrecked! An Entertainment presents itself as a theatrical defense offered by a discredited memoirist from days gone by (the real-life fantasist Louis De Rougemont), and offers a consideration of the validity of both literal and metaphorical truth.

But I won't make it all sound too serious. This show is a hoot and a half.

The real-life De Rougemont was quite a character. Consider this bio excerpted from Wikipedia (a reliable source for literal truth if ever there was one):

Louis De Rougemont (Nov 12 1847 - June 9 1921) was a would-be explorer who claimed to have had adventures in "Australasia." He was born Henri Louis Grin (love that name) in 1847 in Suchy, Switzerland. He left home at the age of 16, and found employment in a variety of jobs, including a footman for the actress Fanny Kemble, a servant to a Swiss banker, and a butler for the Governor of Western Australia. He worked as a doctor, a "spirit photographer," and an inventor. He married and abandoned an Australian wife.

In 1898, Grin began to write about invented adventures in the British periodical The Wide World Magazine, writing under the name Louis De Rougemont. He described his alleged exploits in search of pearls and gold in New Guinea, and claimed to have spent 30 years with "Indigenous Australians" in the outback. He claimed that the tribe with whom he had lived had worshipped him as a god.

Various readers expressed disbelief in his tales from the start, claiming, for example, that no one can actually ride a sea turtle. De Rougemont had also claimed to have seen flying wombats. The fact that he refused to place his travels on the map aroused suspicion. Readers' arguments in the pages of the London newspaper, The Daily Chronicle, continued for months.

De Rougemont subjected himself to examination by the Royal Geographical Society. He claimed that he could not specify exactly where he had been because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with a syndicate that wanted to exploit the gold he had found in the area. He also refused to talk about Aboriginal languages he had supposedly learned. Still, his supporters continued to find precedents to his exploits, fervently wanting to believe that his adventures were real.

In 1898, The Daily Chronicle announced that a businessman named F. W. Solomon had recognized De Rougemont and identified him as Louis Grin. Australian journalist Edwin Greenslade Murphy also helped to expose him, claiming that his memoirs consisted mainly of collected tidbits gathered during visits to the Reading Room of the British Library.

Grin defended himself by writing a letter to The Daily Chronicle, using his original name, and expressing consternation that anybody would confuse him with Louis De Rougemont. The Daily Chronicle was very willing to publish the letter. The Wide World Magazine exploited the situation by preparing a Christmas double issue of De Rougemont's adventures. Sales of both papers soared. De Rougemont himself disappeared from the public view.

In 1899, Grin travelled to South Africa as a music-hall attraction: "The Greatest Liar on Earth." On a similar 1901 tour of Australia, he was booed from the stage. In 1906, he appeared at the London Hippodrome and successfully demonstrated his turtle-riding skills. During World War I, he reappeared as an inventor of a useless meat substitute. He died penniless in London in 1921.

Joe Inscoe will play De Rougemont. Scotty Wichmann and an actress yet to be cast will appear as all the other characters in Grin's life and imagination. If you want to catch Inscoe riding a sea turtle (with Wichmann at shotgun?), don't miss Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

I hope you'll subscribe today, and encourage your friends to join you. All of Richmond's professional theatres need your support.

--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

philcrosby said...

It's so good to have you blogging again!!