SARANAC LAKE - It's a fitting end to a long career at Pendragon Theatre.
Pendragon co-founder Bob Pettee stars in the show "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself)," which opened Wednesday.
Pettee, who is set to turn over the reins of Pendragon next spring and leave the area, plays the title character de Rougemont, a grand storyteller in the late 1800s. Dramaturg Lauren Brennan tells us in her notes in the program that de Rougemont was a real person who told this story countless times on the stages of the music halls of his day.
Bob Pettee, center, stars in “Shipwrecked.”
The show opener Wednesday, at Pendragon's black box theater, presents de Rougemont at a town hall - "where stories are told," he explains - in London in 1898. From a chair in the middle of a bare stage, he tells the audience his tale of adventure in which he is stranded far from home for 30 years after being shipwrecked on a mission to harvest pearls.
Pettee barely stops for a breath during the entire 90 or more minutes of the play's run. Rather than rely on action or stagecraft, he explains what is happening at every moment, even when de Rougemont is at the edge of death without food or water on a ship for days on end, or when he is in the eye of a storm that kills everyone on the boat but him.
He is aided throughout by "volunteers from the audience," MacKenzie Barmen and Tyler Nye, who play a cast of characters ranging from de Rougemont's mother to his fellow sailors to his aboriginal wife and father- and brother-in-law. Nye's take on de Rougemont's dog, Bruno, is particularly well-studied and momentarily stopped the show with a round of applause during the production's opening night Wednesday.
Show director Karen Lordi-Kirkham, who is taking over for Pendragon co-founder Susan Neal as executive/artistic director, told the Enterprise after the show Wednesday that she and Neal chose the play because it was an interesting piece and knew Pettee would do good things with the role, but they didn't go looking for something that would be especially appropriate for his exit from the theater.
"It just kind of worked out to be a great piece for him to be in as his final summer show," Lordi-Kirkham said.
The concept behind the show was to play up the sense of storytelling and to celebrate theater.
If you go ...
What: "Shipwrecked! An Entertainment" by Donald Margulies
Where: Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Ave., Saranac Lake
When: 8 p.m. Sat., Aug. 18
2 p.m. Sun., Aug. 19
8 p.m. Tue., Aug. 21
8 p.m. Fri., Aug. 24
8 p.m. Sat., Aug. 25
8 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 30
8 p.m. Fri., Aug. 31
8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 1
Lordi-Kirkham chose not to use recorded sounds, instead having actors create sound affects with their mouths or noise pieces stowed away in the stage, which she compared to a prop trunk. Most of the costume pieces were also stored in the stage's trap doors or on coat racks at either side of the stage. Those choices reflect theatrical problem-solving that would have been used at the time, before electronics and other technology created the stage wizardry that is common today.
Using those bare-bones production techniques makes the show seem to grow organically out of de Rougemont's imagination.
Lordi-Kirkham said she was very happy with how the show turned out. She said it came into its own that night once the actors had a captive audience engaged in the show, laughing and "aw"-ing at the appropriate moments.
"Having an audience is great," Lordi-Kirkham said. "I think they really needed that final element."
"Shipwrecked!" runs through Sept. 1. The theater is recommending the show for ages 8 and up.
In light of Pettee's departure, one of de Rougemont's lines at the end of play stands out: "What does a man leave behind but his name and the stories he told? All else is dust."
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or