The Titanic disaster may have taken place in the far reaches of the North Atlantic, but the world’s most infamous sinking ship was first set afloat in the harbor of Belfast, Ireland. The ship began its fateful voyage as the pride of an Irish industry that had been transformed by its successes in the manufacture of gargantuan oceangoing vessels. During the century that has passed since the tragedy, there have been an extraordinary number of fictional tales woven about the event, and they have generally focused on the here rather than the hereafter. But that’s all changed now, thanks to Colin Hamell’s one-man show, Jimmy Titanic, which comes to Center Stage Theater for two nights on Friday and Saturday, January 17 and 18. That’s because this account of the Titanic splits the action between two locations — half the show is set on the ship, and the other half takes place in heaven.
Hamell, who is Irish, enlisted his good friend and collaborator Bernard McMullan to write a solo show for him, but when McMullan suggested something to do with the Titanic, Hamell was reluctant. “I couldn’t see how it would work, because most people were so familiar with the movie,” Hamell told me by phone from his current home in Massachusetts. “I insisted that, if we were going to take on this story, it had to be original.” The resulting dark comedy includes scenes in which the souls of the drowned passengers arrive in the afterlife. And how do the recently deceased feel about their unintended destination? “Well,” said Hamell, “the first-class passengers are upset because they bought tickets for New York.”
Hamell plays every one of the 20-odd roles, including God, who is portrayed as a fast-talking chain-smoker. But this Titanic is not played entirely for laughs. “The play asks the audience to think about why they are there,” said Hamell. “What is it about this particular disaster that keeps them coming back? Why can’t they find their own pain?” By emphasizing the humanity of the ship’s builders and crew, and by clarifying the historical record to indicate that the majority of the ship’s passengers were not the wealthy, but rather the working classes of Europe looking for a fresh start in the new world, Jimmy Titanic raises more than the ship and reveals a different kind of iceberg that’s long been invisible underwater — the truth.
Tirna Theatre presents Jimmy Titanic at Center Stage Theater on Friday and Saturday, January 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.