“How do you do this?” recalled Kenyan-born director Saheem Ali on his initial reading of “Shipwreck, A History Play About 2017,” now playing at Woolly Mammoth Theater through Sunday, March 8. As expected, the DC theater earned more points for offering another uniquely creative, inclusive, and diverse production. However, this one, as Ali alluded, is for those who gravitate toward challenging dialogue.
The storyline is contemporary and only history to those too young to comprehend current events, tuned out, or yet to be born. I predict that this play will have a long stage life and only after digesting it will some realize they had witnessed the birth of a period piece classic.
The two-hour and 45 minute creation, with a 15-minute intermission, centers on events surrounding the current presidency. And with its White liberal tilt, it fits a Washington, DC audience. Playwright Anne Washburn explains the impetus for writing the drama. “I felt like the political situation was all I was thinking about. I just wanted to discharge my brain.”
After seeing the result of Washburn’s discharge, DC’s Joseph Hamilton quipped, “It was like an impressionistic painting, people will have their own interpretations.” Brittany, a viewer from New York, thought that parts of the play were “confusing.” It was the subplot about a child adopted from Kenya and struggling to feel connected to the central story’s White family and culturally European-American environment that I found profoundly confusing.