Now considered one of the greatest movies of all time, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws also famously had an incredibly tumultuous production. For a strictly limited engagement, theatre audiences can now be treated to London import The Shark is Broken—a dark comedy that explores the fiasco of making the definitive aquatic horror movie. A trio of engaging acting talent fill the shoes of legendary actors Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw. Here, they are played respectively by Beetlejuice Broadway vet Alex Brightman, Arrowverse actor Colin Connell, and Shaw’s son, Ian Shaw, who also co-wrote the script. All signs point to something special, yet this show feels as rickety, hollow, and monotonous as its sparsely-designed set. As much as I wanted to love it, many jokes fall flat. Shaw playing his father/Quint absolutely steals the show, but not even he can rescue it entirely. Instead of Broadway gold, The Shark is Broken is barely above chum status.

As the show begins, the searing score from John Williams greets us. The set of the Orca stretches out across the stage, made to look as if floating on water courtesy of a giant screen emulating the open ocean. A lone shark fin can be seen inching to the left in the background, bobbing just out of the water. Just as it swims closer, a tiny plume of smoke can be seen. Well well, the shark has broken down again. This is the one and only time we get to glimpse Bruce, the infamous shark whose three versions broke down over and over and over again during the filming of Jaws. Enter: Connell’s Roy, smoking the first of countless cigarettes he consumes during the runtime. Next, Brightman’s Richard and Ian’s Robert stumble onto the boat set, all separately bemoaning that their movie’s big bad has, once again, stalled filming.

The trio gossip about all manner of things, from their past projects, to the film allegedly already being millions over budget, to referring to director Steven as “clinically insane.” As dull and straightforward as some of the dialogue is, all three definitely have chemistry with one another difficult to replicate. Watching as the three core members of the Jaws cast open up to each other through commonalities and family traumas despite their differences and egos in theory sounds wonderful. But, as was no doubt the point, each of them are insufferable in their own ways. Roy chain-smokes and rattles off random unimportant factoids, Richard rants and raves when he is not having panic attacks or suffering from seasickness, and Robert slurs his words, eggs on Richard, and is almost always belligerently drunk. They play mindless games with coins, debate whether Jaws will be the next Citizen Kane, and get really nasty with one another. As days turn to weeks, production stretches as thin as their patience.

Ian Shaw gets the most to work with here, and his performance perfectly emulates that of his late father down to his exact accent. The sole scene lifted directly from Jaws, Quint’s big monologue, is painstakingly recreated down to even the most minute detail. That sequence alone almost makes The Shark is Broken worth seeing at least once, even if the journey to get there is often shrill and repetitive. Donnell serves as the show’s sole eye candy—a sequence in which he strips down to a speedo to sunbathe during a random time when the shark (what else) breaks down was a definite highlight as the monotony of the boat settles in. As much as I adore Brightman in Beetlejuice, he seems oddly miscast here. Dealing with a single-location is a heavy order, asking a lot of the audience to stay invested while narratively not much truly happens at all. Daddy issues, grief, alcoholism, and meta commentary on the “shriveling” profession of acting hope one won’t take notice of the major lack of narrative.

We never get to leave the boat, nor do we see a film crew or so much as a single piece of equipment. The boat set barely receives interaction beyond the random props in a pile that occasionally are used. Those with motion sickness may want to steer clear, as the motion of the boat swaying creates a semi-realistic optical illusion. Those familiar with Jaws will doubtless get the most enjoyment out of the proceedings. Without the background of that film, I cannot imagine younger audiences or those who have not seen the movie having any interest. Few jokes reverberated throughout the audience, with many resulting in scattered laughs that split my crowd. The schtick of catching up with these actors in between takes begins to wear thin early on. When there is nothing to a play beyond three actors arguing with one another, in essence, getting invested in what unfolds may be a fool’s errand.

At just over an hour and a half in length, the show runs shorter than Jaws by more than half an hour. Ian Shaw had a lot to say, and while not necessarily shining in this medium, I have no doubt his father would be proud of his accomplishments. Over fifty years later, we are still talking about the incredible influence Jaws had on pop culture at large. At one point, Shaw opines that one day there will be “only sequels and remakes.” Perhaps sooner rather than later, Jaws will finally get the remake or reboot treatment. Until then, projects like The Shark is Broken prove that there’s no putting down the great white granddaddy of shark cinema.

The Shark is Broken breaks down daily at New York’s John Golden Theatre. For more information, including ticketing, please head over to the show’s official website.

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