THE SHARK IS BROKEN Bites Mechanically — Review
The movie Jaws has held a toothy grip on the global imagination since its blockbuster release nearly 50 years ago – one which, with Shark Week wrapping up its 35th season last month, and the apex predator making recent appearances on New York’s coast, seems unlikely to give. Ian Shaw’s The Shark Is Broken, a play with an impossibly successful track record from Edinburgh Fringe to West End hit to, now, Broadway’s Golden Theatre, attempts to pry its mandibles open and serve it two ways: as a father-son memoir and exorcism, and as a look into its notoriously grueling production. It bares its teeth at the former; eats the fat of the latter.
Shaw, who co-wrote the 90-minute piece with Joseph Nixon, plays his father, gruff thespian, Robert Shaw, whose alcoholism and derision towards relative newcomers made him a bit of a hassle onset, where the three leads would wait for hours on end, seabound, as their underwater costar underwent countless repairs. Most of his rage was directed towards Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman), a hotshot keen on the latest trends, and it was up to Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell), a beloved, head-down workman, to temper the mood.
The problem is that I’ve just essentially described the plot of the film itself, which makes watching this somewhat of an exercise in cinematic foreplay: I couldn’t wait to go home and watch Spielberg’s masterpiece. Here, art imitating life imitating art is a hindrance. The performances are great, Duncan Henderson’s recreation of the Orca fishing boat visually compelling, and Guy Masterson’s direction is lively enough. But, like the shark itself, the play’s essential functions scarcely work — save for the few scenes in which the three men, caught in an epochal shift in acting and celebrity, wax poetic about the fall of fathers, the impotence of sons, and the rolling tides of art. That’s when the play finds its bite. Otherwise, with its slavish recreations of the production’s details and Brightman’s (as required) over-hamming, it feels like an SNL skit waiting for its punchline.
The Shark Is Broken is in performance through November 19, 2023 at the Golden Theatre on West 45th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.