Fun summer movies are being turned into dreary summer theater this August. The tone-deaf “Back to the Future” musical is now followed by “The Shark Is Broken,” written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of “Jaws.”
Both productions are blessed with magnificent video projections. With “Future,” those projections give the impression of the DeLorean zipping through time and space. With “Shark,” the ever-changing video projected on the upstage cyclorama screen gives the impression that the actors playing Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are stuck on a boat in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard during the troubled production of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster. Kudos to Nina Dunn, who designed the video for “The Shark Is Broken.” The show opened Thursday at Broadway’s Golden Theatre after its U.K. world premiere.
It’s odd when you go to the theater to see a show like “Shark” or “Future” and the only thing of interest on stage isn’t even a movie, but a video. Except for the animated appearance of a shark’s fin cutting through the ocean waters during the play’s opening, the mechanical shark that kept breaking down during the production of “Jaws” is a no-show.
The characters of Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider keep telling us that the project is delayed because of “Bruce,” their pet name for the fake fish. But those mechanical problems are never a direct part of the drama. The only scene of the movie that we actually see being filmed is disrupted because the surly Robert Shaw is too inebriated to finish it. This play should really be titled “The Star Is Drunk.”
Robert Shaw (played by Ian Shaw, son of the legendary actor), being arrogant, hits the bottle repeatedly. Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman), being neurotic, gets wasted occasionally on too much blow. And the uptight Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell) tries to play peacemaker while reading aloud from The New York Times to make pithy comments about climate change and Richard Nixon’s resignation. Scheider’s comments are as prescient as they are insufferably cute in their juxtaposition with the contemporary state of American politics and weather.
There’s a “No Exit” quality to “Shark,” except for the fact that the play never explains why this trio of actors is sitting on the Orca boat at sea while Spielberg and company repair the mechanical shark on land. Why aren’t they all relaxing in their four-star trailers on shore, waiting for the call to come back to the floating set? Repeatedly, the characters arrive and leave the boat (set design by Duncan Henderson) at different times. Did each actor have his own private Evinrude boat to take him there, then retrieve him?
Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Quint in “Jaws” remains one of the most grating performances ever put on celluloid. Ian Shaw imitates his father’s every grimace and vocal mannerism, delivering one of the most grating performances ever put on stage. Meanwhile, Brightman and Donnell don’t appear to be playing Dreyfuss and Scheider, but rather the characters Hooper and Brody as portrayed by those actors in the film.
“Shark” is written so that each actor gets his solo moment to unload on Dad, blow up in a dramatic fashion and show off his thespian chops. Guy Masterson’s blunt direction does nothing to mitigate these over-the-top acting exercises.