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Theatre Review: “THE SHARK IS BROKEN” Takes a Triumphant Bite Out of Broadway

Wednesday, August 16, 2023 | Reviews, Stage Fright


In the vast sea of classic horror films, there are a small handful brought up in nearly every conversation. The Exorcist, Halloween and The Texas and  Chainsaw Massacre are frequently listed, and then, of course, there’s 1975’s Jaws. Counted by many to be among the best movies of all time and considered by some to be a perfect film, Jaws launched the era of the summer blockbuster cast and catapulted director Steven Spielberg to fame. However, the creative team behind it could have had no idea the impact the film would have on the world after its release.

Enter THE SHARK IS BROKEN, the new Broadway production about the behind-the-scenes struggles of Jaws’ stars Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. The play, co-written by and starring Shaw’s son, Ian Shaw (portraying his father with magnificent precision and care), also takes the opportunity to make poignant points about father-son relationships, the trials and tribulations of being an actor and what makes a lasting legacy.

Set entirely on The Orca (the fishing boat used as Quint’s vessel to hunt the killer shark in the movie), the play takes place between takes as the cast waits for the mechanical shark (famously nicknamed Bruce) to be fixed. It would seem the shark isn’t the only cast member that needs fixing, as each of the play’s characters process their struggles, deal with the elements and battle personal fears throughout the grueling four-week sea-bound shoot.

Alex Brightman, Ian Shaw and Colin-Donnell in THE-SHARK IS BROKEN. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Ian Shaw’s (National Theatre’s War Horse, Member of Royal Exchange Manchester’s Rep) performance as his father is, frankly, gloriously eerie. In addition to an uncanny resemblance, he perfectly captures not only Robert Shaw’s voice, mannerisms and countenance but also those of his father’s Jaws character, Quint. During a recreation of the now-famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue (which Robert Shaw helped rewrite), one might believe they’re on set watching it be filmed. However, it’s his portrayal of Shaw himself that’s most haunting. Brutally honest, Ian doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of his father’s life, including his alcoholism. In a particularly somber moment, he reveals that he doesn’t know when it was that “the drink became a part of him.” The moment lands. There’s a certain boldness and audacity in going on stage eight times a week and sharing this side of your family. Yet, as complicated a man as Robert Shaw was, it’s clear there’s love and admiration within the prose of Ian Shaw and Jospeh Nixon’s script.

As Richard Dreyfuss, Tony Nominee Alex Brightman (Broadway’s Beetlejuice the Musical, Rock of Ages) gives one of the most painstakingly accurate portrayals of a famous figure audiences may ever see. Celebrated for frenetic comedic timing, Brightman circumvents that energy into nervous ticks, smart-aleck remarks, a constant cocaine sniffle and a frighteningly accurate portrayal of a panic attack. The text doesn’t provide a very flattering portrayal of Dreyfuss – not at first, at least – but throughout his famous feud with Shaw, he does appear to be the character with the biggest arc by the play’s end.

Ian Shaw and Alex-Brightman in THE SHARK IS BROKEN. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Colin Donnell’s (Broadway’s Almost Famous, Violet) Roy Scheider is all at once composed, funny and sexy, and the constant rock of the trio – all things one would expect of Scheider. From the moment he enters with a cigarette dangling impossibly from his lips to a surprisingly hilarious-then-shocking scene involving a tanning session, a Speedo and a baseball bat, Donnell serves Scheider well. His timing is spot-on, and the careful thought behind his lines comes off naturally, even with that John Mulaney-esque Northeastern accent.

The play’s stationary set (designed by Duncan Henderson, who also costumed) perfectly recreates The Orca as we know it from the film, yet in a smaller form. This works wonders for the confined, anxious theme of the play, and it is Guy Masterson’s masterful direction that allows these three characters to move about with purpose in their blocking. Surrounding the ship is an impressive and beautiful video projection of the open sea designed by Nina Dunn. The projections remain beautiful and interesting throughout, yet never distracting. Particularly effective are moments when the boat “rocks” through a combination of the actor’s movement and the video projection’s shifting waves.

The script is both audience-satisfying and audience-challenging. There’s plenty swimming below the surface of this gripping text. While there are a handful of easy laughs, they’re welcome and well-received. The play does a nice job of using said quips to ease the tension between surprisingly heavy scene work. Having known one another for years before writing the play, Shaw and co-writer Joseph Nixon were clearly on the same page when composing this piece. One has to wonder, though, what that process was like. For Shaw to write this piece, so clearly full of admiration not only for his father but for the film Jaws itself, how does a co-writer contribute to something so personal? With finesse as it turns out.

The cast of THE SHARK IS BROKEN. Photo by Michaelah Reynolds.

Yet, while seeing Ian Shaw play his dad is remarkable, one wonders if the play works without him. Will this play be as interesting when recast and produced regionally? In community theaters? Colleges? High schools, even? Or is it the magic of seeing the son of the man who played the legendary Quint that truly brings it to life? One hopes the strength behind this script will let the piece live on, though it sure is cool to see Ian play Robert.

At a well-paced 95 minutes, the play seems suited for a lengthy Broadway run, as it is sure to appeal to obsessive genre fans, hardcore theatergoers and the casual tourist looking to experience the world of live performance. If you’re a fan of Jaws, you’re sure to be a fan of THE SHARK IS BROKEN.

THE SHARK IS BROKEN is now open at Broadway’s Golden Theater on 45th St. in New York City. Get tickets here!


Ricky J. Duarte
Ricky is a writer, actor, singer, and the host of the "Rick or Treat Horrorcast" podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment above a cemetery in New York City with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to NYC in the first place., @RickOrTreatPod