The good news is that Colin Hamel’s performance as JIMMY TITANIC (at New Repertory Theatre through June 30th) is a tour de force. Hamel and New Rep have ganged up before, most notably when Hamel stormed the stage as the incomparable, formidable, lethal lieutenant in (one of my favorite productions ever) THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE.
In the Tir Na company’s production of JIMMY TITANIC at New Rep, Hamel plays Jimmy Boyle, who helped build the Titanic in the Belfast Shipyards, then signed on to stoke the giant furnace and see the world. Bernard McMullan’s one man show (with endless characters) is a memory play of sorts set in the afterlife. It’s not your grandmother’s idea of heaven. The angel Gabriel fancies dirty tricks and the occasional shakedown while God fumes and sometimes behaves badly for “sport.”
McMullan’s construct has Jimmy learning his way around “paradise,” having become a bit of a celebrity by dint of his demise. A hundred years, and we’re still hungry for Titanic tidbits. Likewise, in heaven: The more spectacular your death, the more street (or should I say “cloud”) cred.
Within the play’s heavenly frame, Jimmy can remember his life and his death. He can impart his recurring “sinking” nightmares. He can give us tips about survival in the great beyond. He can meet (dead) people from all walks of life and any era. But the play doesn’t make sense when it leaves Jimmy’s world and exits the frame to take us to a newsroom or a Senate hearing. Without Jimmy in the scene(s), they seem out of place and they undercut Jimmy’s story. Mind you, with Carmel O’Reilly directing and Hamel acting up a storm, they almost make it work.
McMullan’s lovely closing (about the ship being the love of Jimmy’s life) clued me in to the Belfast theme, which is a grand, “through line” idea—but one which wasn’t there enough for me to trip to it, until Jimmy’s last words. Then the Belfast scenes all replayed in a flash, in my head. Maybe that’s the way Tir Na and McMullan want it to work.
It way be a bit long for a one-man show, but JIMMY TITANIC has many stirring (and lots of funny) moments. It made me remember Robert Shaw’s exquisite, harrowing monologue from JAWS, recounting the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in WWII. Not bad company to be in.