Review | You’re gonna need a bigger boat – or a better play

Colin Donnell, Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw in THE SHARK IS BROKEN – Photo by Matthew Murphy
Colin Donnell, Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw in “The Shark is Broken”
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Talk about awkward timing. Just days following a violent shark attack on Rockaway Beach, a new play has opened on Broadway that revolves around another shark: “Bruce,” the malfunctioning mechanical shark that was used to represent the menacing title character in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster thriller “Jaws.”

Thankfully, “The Shark is Broken” is not a stage adaptation of “Jaws” – though one can’t help but wonder how that might work.

Rather, Ian Shaw (son of the late English actor Robert Shaw, who famously played the shark hunter Quint in the film) and Joseph Nixon have written a behind-the-scenes comedy depicting the film’s three stars, Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell, chill and buff), Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman, manic and slovenly), and Shaw (played by the playwright, who recreates his father’s gravelly voice and intimidating and inebriated presence), as they uncomfortably wait on the Orca fishing vessel for days on end while on-location shooting is paused due to ongoing technical difficulties with “Bruce.”

It is essentially a male-dominated, sentimental buddy comedy, full of comic banter, oddball observations, horseplay and obvious nods to the future (i.e. sequels, “Jurassic Park,” a president more immoral than Nixon) plus some emotional confessions and even introspection about the film’s inner meaning. It ends with Shaw (who is the play’s most deeply-explored character) performing his character’s sobering U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue.

The play is also a variation on “Waiting for Godot,” in which the country road is replaced by a boat, the tramps are replaced by Hollywood actors, and Godot is replaced by a mechanical shark. In fact, just like Godot, “Bruce” never shows up, except for some computer-generated graphics that are projected onto the set, which depicts the ongoing movement of the water.

At its best, the production (directed by Guy Masterson) makes for lightweight fun, especially for movie buffs – and I happened to spot quite a few audience members wearing “Jaws” t-shirts at my performance. But it is also a slow and static piece built around a premise that probably could not sustain much more than a five-minute “Saturday Night Live” sketch. 

Through Nov. 19 at the Golden Theatre, thesharkisbroken.com.