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Broadway Play Review—“The Shark Is Broken”

The Shark Is Broken
Written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon; directed by Guy Masterson
Performances through November 19, 2023
Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, New York, NY
Colin Donnell, Ian Shaw and Alex Brightman in
The Shark Is Broken (photo: Matthew Murphy)
Basically about three actors sitting around on a boat while their movie, Jaws, is taking longer than ever to make because the mechanical shark rarely works, The Shark Is Broken—written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon—is a decent enough diversion.
Ian is the son of Robert Shaw, who famously played the monomaniacal shark hunter Quint in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster 1975 movie, which was such an enormous hit that summer that Hollywood would never be the same after its astonishing success. So it’s no surprise that Ian plays his dad Robert in this curio about the frustrations of three actors—Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, Shaw’s costars in the movie, are the others—as they sit around waiting for the green light to continue filming.
It's the barest of bare skeletons, which Shaw fils and cowriter Nixon are obviously aware of. In lieu of any real plot, the trio wiles away the boredom of waiting for the shark to be fixed by playing games, drinking, telling stories, drinking, singing songs, drinking, irritating each other—the bulk of the show is filler, but what the writers are after is the camaraderie, at first tentative but eventually hard-earned, of the actors, as diverse as can be. Robert Shaw was an infamously hard-drinking Irish-Brit; Roy Scheider was the city-dwelling everyman; and Richard Dreyfuss was, at least in this telling, a young actor with the biggest streak of insecurity in history.
A little of their back-and-forth goes a long way, so Shaw, Nixon and director Guy Masterson keep things moving by alternating longer, conversational scenes with shorter, atmospheric—and mainly dialogue-less—moments, which makes The Shark Is Broken marginally longer—it runs about 90 intermissionless minutes—but doesn’t provide much depth.
Amid all the wink-wink nudge-nudge jokes about how Jaws will be a flop (or at best a piece of junk that will make money but no one will remember in 50 years) or how Dreyfuss says he’s spoken to their director about his next movie, which will be about UFOs (incredulous, Shaw bellows, “What next, dinosaurs?”) or how President (not cowriter) Nixon—who, in real life, resigned while Jaws was being filmed—is the most immoral in history, the creators understand that The Shark Is Broken is about acting, and they have created juicy bits for each character, even if Masterson seems to encourage all three actors to go further into caricature than is needed.
Colin Donnell plays Roy Scheider with a pinched voice and exaggerated New Yawk accent, but he perfectly plays the moderating influence that the mostly calm Scheider must have been on the diametrically opposed personalities that were Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. 
Alex Brightman, always a physically adept comedian, plays Dreyfuss as a fidgety bundle of nerves—but since he’s a dead ringer for oceanographer Matt Hooper, the performance, funny and entertaining as it is, comes off as more of an impression of the character Hooper than the actor Dreyfuss.
From the moment he walks onto the stage, Ian Shaw is an uncanny doppelgänger of his father, and there are moments during The Shark Is Broken where it seems that a hologram of Shaw pere is interacting with the others. Ian also has the best lines as Robert reduces Richard to a pile of blubber with constant insults or when Robert extols the many virtues of being a drunkard—even while on the set, shooting. 
But the coup de theatre comes at the climax when Ian recreates, word for word and gesture for gesture, Robert’s unforgettable Jaws monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis after delivering the atomic bomb to Japan. Although it seems out of place, slapped on to the end of the play, Ian catches some of the nuances in his dad’s original tour de force and it’s a satisfying way to wrap up, as appreciative Jaws fans in the audience can attest.
Masterson directs snappily on Duncan Henderson’s precise recreation of Quint’s beat-up fishing boat, the Orca; Jon Clark’s lighting, Ninz Dunn’s projections and Adam Cork’s music and sound design coalesce to ground the enjoyably slight The Shark Is Broken in our collective movie memories.

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