By David Walters
A reason to go back in the water.
If you’re one of the nine people I think on this planet that hasn’t seen or know of the movie Jaws, please watch it before going to see “The Shark Is Broken” now playing at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre. You will get more of the jokes, understand the nuances of what the characters are going through, and have a much better ride.
And if you’re one of the other 8,052,931,378, and especially if you’re a fan of the movie, you have a real treat in store for you.
The film shoot was rife with problems in 1974 as smooth sailing depended on the early May weather on a stormy coast, the hubris of a relatively new director (his second theatrical feature), a local government throwing up roadblocks to the filming, and a stable of three mechanical sharks that were daily breaking down. The shoot was scheduled for 55 days but ran 159. Unprecedented at the time. But that kind of mayhem makes for great comedy and story telling. “The Shark Is Broken” is a comedy with great storytelling.
On the serious side, it’s also sort of a “Waiting for Godot” as you’ve got people waiting in one place for someone/something to arrive (in this case a working mechanical shark), day after day. The three actors (a mini-me Ian Shaw, playing his father Robert Shaw to a tee, Alex Brightman nailing the neuroticism and mannerisms of Richard Dreyfuss, and Colin Donnell as a picture perfect Roy Scheider) are stuck on the boat waiting day, after day, after day, after day and the grating personalities, egos, personal historical life traumas that they bring on board, and reflective revealing stories that surface in the doldrums, toss about like a stone soup where another ingredient is constantly being incorporated into the pot.
It’s a story about fathers and sons, what they both give and take from each other as they go through life. That give and take of that relationship is frequently expressed in how people personally deal with each other and the world. Oh, and the play is also about a shark, or lack thereof.
The versatile and active set (by Duncan Henderson, who also did costumes) is a dissected half boat (the Orca) where the actors are daily marooned with each other in the small cabin, waiting, surrounded by a projected moving visual diorama (by Nina Dunn) of the sea with waves, birds, boats, sky and motion that give the feeling of movement on the water. It deftly adds to the reality of the situation and thus allows the comedy that comes out of the frustration of waiting to ebb and flow with ease.
If the movie Jaws is part of your social makeup, where every time you go to the beach the memory of a fin glides through your unconscious, you’re going to love this play.
Before the play arrived on Broadway, “The Shark Is Broken” had a brief tryout in Brighton, England in 2019, and ran at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It also played at the Ambassadors Theater in London’s West End during the 2021-22 season with an extended run, winning an Olivier Award.
Opening August 10 at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street.
95 minutes no intermission.
Tickets can be had here.
As always, this is just one person’s opinion in a world filled with them.