‘The Shark Is Broken’ review: ‘Jaws’ riff gets swallowed by Broadway

“The Shark Is Broken,” a new Broadway comedy about the behind-the-scenes squabbles during the making of “Jaws,” frequently asks whether Steven Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster is art or entertainment.

History has determined that it’s both — a monster movie, yes, but one overflowing with cinematic innovation and panache that amounted to a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar nomination and enduring worldwide fame. 

Theater review

1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. At the Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

But Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s wishy-washy play, which opened Thursday at the Golden Theatre, struggles to be either as it depicts actors Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell) and Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman) going at each other’s throats off-camera. 

They fight, fight again and then fight some more.

The concept is a fun one, to be sure. We drop in on the 1974 production of “Jaws” as it’s already $2 million over budget, and the trio of hot-tempered actors have day after day of downtime on set in Martha’s Vineyard because the animatronic shark (nicknamed Bruce) keeps malfunctioning. 

All of that really happened — and caused “Jaws” to take a grueling five months to film.

So, the fed-up actors drink, read aloud the newspaper, play old British pub games, puke and brawl aboard the Orca to pass the time.

Colin Donnell, Ian Shaw and Alex Brightman
Colin Donnell, Ian Shaw and Alex Brightman play Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss in “The Shark Is Broken” on Broadway.

The effect of their macho antics, however, is much the same as listening to your drunken friends argue about capitalism at 2 a.m. They keep on yapping and are not getting anywhere, so you zone out.

Big-personality confrontations about who the real star of the movie is — and who’s the better actor — are neither rip-roaring nor very insightful. They start out amusingly petty, and quickly grow repetitive.

The draw, though, is Ian Shaw. He is the son of Robert Shaw — the Shakespearean actor who played gruff shark hunter Quint and who died in 1978. Ian plays his dad in the show he co-wrote. 

So, not coincidentally, he’s the best part of the play directed by Guy Masterson.

The set of The Shark Is Broken
“The Shark Is Broken” tells the behind-the-scenes story of “Jaws.”

Ian is the spitting image of his father and he’s handed himself the funniest lines, in part because Robert was also an accomplished writer. How classical actors wound up in projects like “Jaws” in the pre-Marvel 1970s — another was Sir Alec Guinness in “Star Wars” — is fascinating.

Yet enjoyable though he is, nobody here is fleshed-out enough. Roy, Robert and Richard are, sketch-like, defined by a single personality trait. Robert is the grizzled veteran, Roy is nerdy and Richard is a bright-eyed doofus. If any change occurs, it’s that by the end they tolerate each other a bit more.

At times Shaw and Nixon’s dialogue sparks with wit, and at others we get groaner after groaner.

The play is extremely aware — too aware! — of the legacy of “Jaws” and of future events to come, and endlessly references them. The shark is broken, but the winks are in overdrive.

Ian Shaw
Ian Shaw co-wrote “The Shark Is Broken” and stars in the role of Robert Shaw, his father.
Nick Driftwood

“UFOs? Aliens,” says Shaw after learning about Spielberg’s upcoming project, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “What’s next? Dinosaurs?!” 

Another one goes: “Nobody will be talking about this movie in 50 years!” 

A headline about Richard Nixon’s resignation is used to make an easy Trump joke.

These many thudding lines, to reference Quint’s dramatic entrance in “Jaws,” are like nails on a chalkboard.

Regardless, the three performers have strong chemistry, and manage to rise above mere impressions — even while doing spot-on impersonations of the film’s stars.

They inhabit Duncan Henderson’s functional, cross-section Orca set that lovingly evokes the movie in front of Nina Dunn’s projections of the Atlantic Ocean.

Still, on Broadway, the little play gets swallowed up like a doomed teen in Amity.

“Shark” was a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, and I’m sure it’s a show that would benefit from that kind of scrappiness and intimacy.

Sometimes you need a smaller boat.

source: nypost.com