Broadway Review: THE SHARK IS BROKEN (Golden)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 30, 2023

in Theater-New York


Stories abound about the problem-plagued production of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws, a thriller about a 25-foot-long great white shark that eats unsuspecting swimmers around the (fictional) island of Amity, New York, and about the three men who go out on a fishing boat called the Orca to kill it. The film’s three heroes are Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss; Sheriff Brody, played by Roy Scheider; and Quint, played by Robert Shaw.

Colin Donnell, Ian Shaw, and Alex Brightman
Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw & Colin Donnell

Probably the most well-known tales regarding the making of this film, whose ocean scenes Spielberg insisted on shooting in open water so they’d look more realistic, have to do with the fact that the three mechanical sharks playing the titular character (all of which were dubbed “Bruce” after Spielberg’s attorney) continually refused to cooperate, breaking down time and again, and causing the 26-year-old director’s second theatrical feature to go more than 100 days over schedule and millions of dollars overbudget.

Colin Donnell & Alex Brightman

But the malfunctioning Bruces weren’t Spielberg’s only problems. There were personality conflicts between cast members, bureaucratic obstacles, difficulties with the location and the locals, as well as issues with the script. These and other obstacles are fictionalized in Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s 2019 play The Shark Is Broken, a comedic dramatization of the behind-the-scenes goings on on the Orca picture boat, where the film’s three leads spend much of their down time.

Ian Shaw & Alex Brightman

On Duncan Henderson’s simple but effective Orca set at Broadway’s Golden Theatre, with Nina Dunn’s useful background projections of sea and sky, Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman) is a mess of neuroses, caught in a crisis of self-confidence after having recently finished shooting The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. At the same time he is victimized by his own massive ego, which weighs on him to do more serious work and at the same time to become more rich and famous. Robert Shaw (played by script co-author and Robert’s son, Ian Shaw) is a kind of modern poet-warrior. On the one hand, he’s a rough alcoholic, a man’s man who exhibits contempt for Dreyfuss’s wining, his portliness, and his lack of physical strength. And on the other, he’s a sensitive artist mining his soul for truth and beauty. Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell), the most even-keeled of the group, seems to want little more than to read his newspaper and have a little peace and quiet while he works on his tan on the deck, but who, we learn later, is no stranger to living in hell.

Colin Donnell, Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw

My apprehension, even as I was making arrangements to attend this show, was that the whole thing would amount to little more than an amusing novelty act full of dropped names and worn Wikipedia trivia bits delivered by actors imitating beloved movie stars. And as one watches Mr. Brightman do his outstanding Dreyfuss, and Ian Shaw captivate as his father Robert, it nevertheless takes a little time for those errant thoughts — such as, Does Brightman’s excellent version of his character comport with the image I have of the Duddy Kravitz star? — to fade into the background. But they do, thanks in no small part to the intelligent script, and before long the personages and events depicted transcend what preconceived notions we might have had of them, and we are left watching a very entertaining and inventive bit of theater. (I confess, it took me a bit longer to accept Mr. Donnell’s Scheider, but I did eventually and ended up enjoying his portrayal.) Misters Shaw and Nixon do an admirable job of avoiding the pitfalls of bio-fiction as they dig deeper into their characters, personalizing and dramatizing them while keeping their essences intact. And director Guy Masterson helms the show with economy and insight.

Colin Donnell & Ian Shaw
Alex Brightman & Ian Shaw

There is much to relish in The Shark is Broken. But most pleasurable for me is the chance to hang out with these three guys — Shaw, Dreyfuss and Scheider — who all seem like they would be fun and interesting to spend time with, to have a beer with, to talk about movies and high art and low art and life with. The show’s creators give us a chance to do this, which turns out to be remarkably, even unexpectedly, satisfying.

Alex Brightman

photos by Matthew Murphy

The Shark Is Broken
Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street
Tues-Fri at 7; Sat at 8; Wed and Sat at 2: Sun at 3
ends on November 19, 2023
for tickets, ($59 – $195) call 212.239.6200 or visit Telecharge

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