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The Shark Is Broken

A group of people on a boat

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Colin Donnell, Ian Shaw, Alex Brightman (Photo: Matthew Murphy)


The Shark Is Broken

By Fern Siegel


The Shark Is Broken is a literal reference to the mechanical shark in Jaws, directed by a young Steven Spielberg.


The play rests on a slim premise — three men in a boat — discussing life, art and entertainment while coping with the boredom of a movie set — exacerbated by a dysfunctional shark. The humor often rests on throwaway lines about the experience, including the angry fear that one day horror films will replace real movies. And movies will only be sequels and remakes.

“Steven was telling me about this idea for a new movie he’s got — about UFOs, where the aliens are the good guys,” says Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman).

“Aliens! Jesus!” Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw) sneers. “Whatever next? Dinosaurs?”

The audience laughs because his critique came true. Spielberg’s blockbusters changed Hollywood. But it’s summer 1974 — and the men, including Roy Schneider (Colin Donnell) wrestle with male egos, rivalry and the legacy of fathers and sons as they rage against what they deem a delayed, over-budget monster movie.


Made for a few million, Jaws was wildly profitable, ushering in a radical change in movie making and marketing. Young moviegoers loved Spielberg’s future efforts — Jurassic Park and Close Encounters. But many critics blame his big-budget thrills and chills with altering the film landscape forever.


In fact, it’s the knowledge of future cinematic and political events that propels much of the play’s humor. The three also navigate rough personal waters.


Now on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, The Shark Is Broken recreates the Jaws boat, sliced in half, courtesy of set designer Duncan Henderson. Water gently laps in front and the Martha’s Vineyard coast line provides the backdrop to the action.


And the action is all talk.


Drinking, celebrity and personal reminiscences can only carry a show so far, however excellent the performances and funny the lines. And the trio, a tight ensemble, brings the paranoia (Brightman), bluster and might (Shaw) and even-keel, intellectual air (Donnell) to their respective characters. But as a 95-minute, no-intermission play, one waits for them to take a bite out of real drama.



A group of men sitting at a table

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Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw, Colin Donnell (Photo: Matthew Murphy)


The play, which began at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before moving to London’s West End, is more rumination than conflict. Ian Shaw, son of Robert Shaw, who played Quint, the shark hunter in Jaws, co-wrote the script with Joseph Nixon. The writers’ comedy chops are sound. (The play is also a tribute to Shaw’s gifted father.) And they capture the three distinct actors in precise ways. Dreyfuss whines, Shaw drinks and Schneider reads. He’s the peacemaker. As the men grapple with everything from sea sickness to alcoholic despair, Shark transforms, at moments, into a thoughtful look at the nature of acting and the anxieties that accompany it.


Though there is one scene performed from the actual movie, the men spend most of their time playing cards, games or arguing. A major concern is the threat President Nixon poses to sustaining constitutional government. (The parallel to Donald Trump is clear — and the audience responds in kind.)


Brightman recreates Dreyfuss’ fussy tics, or as Shaw notes: “Richard, mind your mannerisms.” And Shaw rages like the acclaimed Shakespearean actor his father was, capturing the man’s immense talent and sorrow. Donnell keeps his cool. He is the perfect Brody, his film character, on and off set. They are all accomplished actors, but one wishes they could grapple with a conflict as big as Jaws.


Director Guy Masterson gets strong performances from his cast, aided by Jon Clark’s lighting. Adam Cork’s sound design and original music set the stage. The video background, by Nina Dunn, nicely recreates the ocean east of Martha’s Vineyard. (Jaws was the first movie to be shot on the ocean, an unpleasant experience Spielberg refused to endure again, explaining why he wasn’t involved in any Jaws sequels.)


Shark churns up lots of emotions for the performers. There’s not much for cinephiles to chew on, especially if they think the play is a behind-the-scenes look at Jaws. Instead, it resembles My Dinner With Andre, but funnier, and on a movie boat.


The Shark Is Broken

Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45 St,

Through Nov. 19
Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission

Tickets: $74-248