In the “Jaws: The Inside Story” documentary, the real Dreyfuss once described Shaw, a veteran actor, as a privately kind and gentle person, then “on the way to the set, he was possessed by some evil troll who would then make me his victim.” Just as the rugged working-class Quint mocks city-boy Hooper in Spielberg’s picture, the onstage Shaw berates Brightman’s petulant and chatty Dreyfuss to buck up and “mind your mannerisms!” Shaw’s austerity exasperates Dreyfuss. Yet, being the 27-year-old relative newcomer among his fortysomething co-stars, he also longs to be Shaw.
Not unlike many of Spielberg’s projects, the father-son story in “The Shark Is Broken” froths beneath the metatextual undercurrents. Heads will perk up when the onstage Robert Shaw commiserates on his father’s suicide. There, we cannot unsee Ian (who lost his father at age nine and now outlived both his father’s and paternal grandfather’s ages) ruminating on the paternal trauma seeping into his own father’s vices. Ian Shaw’s dramatization plays up a dimension to Shaw Sr.’s mercurial dynamic with Dreyfuss: He can’t help but parent him in his own harsh language.
You have Scheider too, a more down-to-earth Dad figure, who pops open the New York Times paper, digests the Richard Nixon-related headlines aloud, and keeps the peace between his co-stars. The play suggests that his easygoing personality was a way for him not to repeat his own father’s violence, while a comic scene of him trying to sunbathe implies he’s not incapable of losing his temper. Dreyfuss also shares that his father walked out on his family on his 21st birthday, culminating in a breakdown. With quality work, Shaw, Donnell, and Brightman insinuate that these men’s dispositions, their varying expressions of masculinity, and their vulnerabilities were shaped by their respective milieu, especially how they observed their fathers.