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Theatre Review: 'The Last Lifeboat' Examines Drama Behind The Sinking Of The Titanic

credit: Barry Wisdom

credit: Barry Wisdom

The Jackson-based Main Street Theatre Works is staging this drama about the Titanic, which famously sank, killing over 15 hundred passengers. The production poses a fascinating question: if you were on a crippled ocean liner about to go down, what would you do?

When the Titanic was launched in 1912, it was billed as “the largest floating object in the world,” the ultimate in luxury and the safest ship ever built.

But in reality, the Titanic was built in a hurry, with many corners cut. The American tycoon J.P. Morgan, a primary investor, insisted that a set of planned lifeboats be replaced by highly-profitable deluxe first class cabins. Saying “Practically unsinkable is good enough for me”

The Titanic hit an iceberg and sank quickly during its maiden voyage. This show presents the sinking largely through sound. We watch the horrified faces of a few survivors in a lifeboat as they hear the distant screams of hundreds of doomed passengers back on the Titanic, as the big ship slides beneath the waves.

But the lynchpin is the moral dilemma that faced the builder of the Titanic – businessman J. Bruce Ismay. We see him save several passengers as the ship starts sinking. Then, as the last lifeboat is readied, Ismay is offered the final seat. The ship is in chaos; no other men, women or children are nearby. He won’t trigger another person’s death by taking that seat. So Ismay, who has a wife and kids, steps into the lifeboat, and lives.
But following the wreck, Ismay is widely vilified. A lot of people feel he should have gone down with the ship.

Ismay spends decades trying to atone, raising money to compensate the survivors. His efforts are never enough. And the audience is left to decide: What would you do, in the midst of disaster, facing a choice between certain death, or survival as a person almost universally despised?

This outdoor show isn’t consistently polished from first to last, but it’s nonetheless a sturdy edifice that supports this play’s over-arching moral dilemma quite effectively. And it’s good to see a summer drama that thoughtfully examines this infamous disaster of a century ago.

The Main Street Theater Works production of “The Last Lifeboat” plays Fridays and Saturday through September 10th at the Kennedy Mine Amphitheater, in Jackson. 

In 2012 NPR produced this series of stories about the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship.

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