By Lori Perkins
The moment I heard that the son of Robert Shaw, who played Quinn in Jaws, had written a play about his dad, Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss as they were making the film, I said to myself, “I’ve got to see this.” As I’ve told many of my friends, I really like the weird Broadway stuff (although I thought this would have been an Off Broadway offering).
But I guess I forgot just how big Jaws was, and is, in American (and even British – Shaw was English/Irish) popular culture.
How did I forget that I saw the movie in the summer of 1975 in Miami on a family vacation and refused to swim in the ocean again for over a year.
But I digress.
I thought the play was going to be about the making of the movie. It couldn’t be farther from that.
It is about the making of masculinity at the mid-20th century.
Each of these very fine actors truly embodies the mannerisms and spirit of the real life actors they portray (Dreyfuss is the only one still alive – Shaw actually died four years after making Jaws) as they show us their insecurities as they wait for Bruce, the mechanical shark of the title, to work well enough to complete filming.
The simple set is masterful – a boat cut in half lengthwise and an ever-shifting sky of day and night to show the passage of time.
The play could have been called Waiting for Bruce. I bet that was the working title.
Ian Shaw, the playwright and son of Robert, so captures his father in his performance, that it is hard to remember it’s not Robert Shaw. I think many of us were fearful that this play would be a lovefest to his dad, or a condemnation of the director and Dreyfuss, with whom Shaw did not get along, but it is truly an in-depth and nuanced look at what it means to be an actor at this changing moment in American history (with many references to Watergate and the commercialization of Hollywood in the 70’s).
It is so surprisingly well-done that it is worth the Broadway ticket price. And you’ll want to go rewatch Jaws again, preferably in a theater or an outdoor screening.