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A CurtainUp Review
Jimmy Titanic

Cause of death, an iceberg. .— Jimmy Boylan
jimmy titanic
Colin Hamell stars in Bernard McMullan's Jimmy Titanic, directed by Carmel O'Reilly, at the Irish Repertory Theatre. (© Carol Rosegg)
Jimmy Titanic currently at the Irish Repertory Theatre not only creates a vivid collage of the famous maritime disaster but captures the hopes and dreams of the 700 crewmen who died in the shipwreck.

Performed by Colin Hamell, and directed by Carmel O'Reilly, this dark historical drama primarily centers on Belfast shipyard worker Jimmy Boylan, who worked in the bowels of the doomed ocean liner. Hamell impersonates Jimmy and more than 20 other characters to take you from heaven to earth, and straight into the soul of Titanic.

Prepare to laugh and cry since many of the scenes take place in heaven where you meet supernatural heavyweights like the archangel Gabriel, St. Peter, and God himself. And, contrary to what you've heard, these supernatural beings have foibles and worse.

There's Gabriel who ushers all the JD's (an acronym for "just dead") through the gates of heaven and is the go-to angel for heavenly protocol. While he can be a slick operator at times, he knows the precincts of heaven inside-out. Then there's God's right-hand man St. Peter, who mostly acts as a go-between for the JD's and God. God of course is a know-all figure who has the "whole Santa look" and a "dodgy attitude." In fact, when God has an audience with the Titanic people, one first class passenger bluntly asks Him: "How could you let this [the Titanic sinking] happen?" But God simply evades the pointed question with an adage that He's probably been repeating since the fall of Adam and Eve: "Another day, another disaster."

No question that the piece has a serious underlining. It highlights not only the crew members who died in the early hours of April 15, 1912, but the people greatly impacted by the disaster. In fact, one of the more dramatic scenes takes place in the Mayor of Belfast's office. The Mayor fears that their city's celebrated shipyard, Harland and Wolff (where the Titanic was built), will be crucified for its sinking, especially if an investigation succeeds in uncovering that it was built with a faulty design. Being determined to save the shipyard and the city's economy, he vehemently remarks to the representatives of Harland and Wolff: "As true as my name is RJ McMordie, the great city of Belfast cannot and will not take the blame for the sinking of Titanic."

If some names were tarnished when the "Floating Palace" vanished into the Atlantic's depths, others gained a dazzling luster. Jimmy Boylan describes his own transformation from being a regular Joe to a Titanic boy as weird and wonderful. "The first time around on earth I was wee James Boylan destined for mediocrity. This time, up here in heaven, I was Jimmy Titanic."

The chief delight here comes from watching Hamell bring alive those 20-odd characters. He unabashedly dives in and inhabits crew members, the millionaire John Jacob Astor, a New York Times editor, the narrator, and more.

Hamell, who's the Artistic Director of Tir Na Theatre Company Boston, has toured this solo show throughout Ireland and North America and received a raft of good notices. Little wonder that the actor is so completely in command.

Much depends of course on O'Reilly's seamless direction and Gottlieb's spare set and lighting that captures the simulated reality of heaven and earth with only a few large panels washed in atmospheric lighting.

Jimmy Titanic is ultimately an homage to the lads who crewed the "wondership." Written for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, the production is still floating along just fine.

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Jimmy Titanic by Bernard McMullan
Directed by Carmel O'Reilly
Cast: Colin Hamell (Jimmy Boylan & assorted other characters).
Sets & lighting: Michael Gottlieb
Stage Manager: Michael Palmer
Irish Repertory Theatre at 132 West 22nd Street. Tickets: $50. Phone: 212.727.2737 or online at
From 1/24/18; opening 1/30/18; closing 2/18/18.
Wednesday @ 3pm & 8pm; Thursday @ 7pm; Friday @ 8pm; Saturday @ 3pm & 8pm Sunday @ 3pm
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 1/26/18

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