Morals on the high sea
The Last Lifeboat
For its latest production, Main Street Theatre Works turns to a historical drama. The Last Lifeboat tells the story of J. Bruce Ismay, head of the company that built the Titanic. Ismay was on the ship and when the Titanic struck an iceberg, Ismay opted to take a vacant seat as the last lifeboat.
The play depicts Ismay from childhood to old age. Characters include the ruthless investor J.P. Morgan (who wants more high-revenue first class cabins on the ships—something that results in fewer lifeboats) and the scandal-mongering newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
The script, by Luke Yankee, but the show frames Ismay’s moral dilemma quite nicely: no one else was in line when Ismay stepped onto the lifeboat—and if he had remained on deck and gone down with the ship, the gesture would not have saved any of the Titanic’s other passengers. But Ismay was widely vilified, and spent the rest of his life atoning—hounded by reporters, and denounced as a coward, even as he raised money for shipwreck survivors.
Actor Eric Craig deftly sketches Ismay as a quiet businessman caught between profit-seeking investors and the deadlines to get the big ship (“the world’s largest floating object”) launched. Another 10 actors play multiple roles as the play gives a kaleidoscopic view of the disaster’s impact over decades.
Director Julie Anchor depicts the actual sinking primarily through sound—we see the horrified faces of survivors on the lifeboat as they hear the screams coming across the water as the Titanic disappears beneath the waves. It’s a gripping theatrical moment, even though everyone knows it’s coming.