There is a story, maybe it could even be considered a folktale, that has become legendary among the theatre community in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If I told you that this story centers on the Titanic, you may not be too surprised, as Halifax’s connection to the doomed ocean liner is relatively well known, and tourists flock to three graveyards here where 150 of the victims are buried, not to mention frequenting the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which has a Titanic exhibit. Yet, this other tale actually centers on the other Titanic, the one that grossed over 1.8 billion dollars worldwide after being released in 1997. In her newest play, My Titanic, which closed its World Premiere at Eastern Front Theatre’s Supernova Festival yesterday, Haligonian actor Jennifer Overton, shares this folktale of ego, disaster and shellfish with the rest of the world.
My Titanic, a true story, begins in July 1996, with a phone call from Jennifer’s agent asking her if she would be available to do the reverse scenes as a stand-in for (then 87 year old) Gloria Stuart, who was playing “Old Rose” in the James Cameron film Titanic, which was filming select scenes in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. When she arrives on what is described as a tumultuous set, she meets the iconic Captain Cameron, makes the crew cry with her poignant reading of Stuart’s lines, treats herself to some chowder and eventually finds herself part of a mass exodus to the Dartmouth General Hospital (Women and Children first).
As a story, My Titanic works well because it not only connects the Halifax community even more ardently to the famous tragedy of HMS Titanic, but also anchors the film firmly as part of our own regional experience. This allows Overton to make some extremely specific regional jokes that will resonate with the audiences of Eastern Front’s Supernova Festival, including a demonstration of a typical drive from Halifax to Dartmouth. Even more obscurely there is also a clever reference to Haligonian actor Martha Irving and Overton’s prior show, God’s Middle Name, which are delightful for those who are “in” on the joke. Yet, because of the subject matter, both the Titanic and Titanic, this play also has a broader mass appeal in a nice mixture of regional and universal.
As a production, My Titanic has some really great moments and exciting potential, but seems still early in the process of navigating through the most effective way of telling the tale. Director David Overton creates a sort of surrealist world, which becomes increasingly appropriate as the play progresses, making creative use of props like a wheelchair, umbrella and mannequin. The ambiance harkens back to the days of the music hall, which is appropriate given the timeframe of the launch of the Titanic, and it’s an idea that I think could be pushed even further in the development of the show. David Overton also uses slides on an overhead projector which appear on an artistic representation of an iceberg, which Jennifer Overton manipulates, to highlight certain visuals, most of which are only peripherally connected to the story. I feel torn about the effectiveness of these projections. One the one hand, the story doesn’t need them and the effort of Jennifer continually bending down to change them is choppy and distracting. At the same time, I think with a different medium and perhaps within a different context, projected images could add an immediacy and depth to the story, especially within an enhanced concept of the music hall.
There are other moments that are viscerally magical and capture perfectly the experience of Jennifer’s character. There is a moment when she is wading through a crowded set, all alone on stage, and yet with her movements alone I could feel her unease and claustrophobia and could anticipate precisely when she would collide with the people I couldn’t see, but knew were there. There is also a fantastic whirlwind scene from the hospital which mirrors the wooziness of her head and the churning of her stomach so vividly that the audience can feel it themselves.
My Titanic exposes the grubby underside of the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood and it really is quite a snarky tale, and I don’t mean that as an insult. Jennifer Overton seems to be in unchartered waters in Halifax where theatre does not often have that cynical, caustic edge that so often breeds hilarity, but always at the expense of a brilliant zinger aimed (usually) at someone famous. Throughout My Titanic there were moments where Overton gets this balance of being endearing, but hilariously jaded at the same time, just right. She makes this joke about Gloria Stuart being BFFs with Shirley Temple which is both irreverent and plucky, but overall, she is so polite in her tone, almost apologetic (and so very “Canadian”), that the comedy loses a lot of the grit and the punch it needs to stay afloat.
Overall, I see a lot of potential in this play, and it is certainly one that will interest audiences all over, so I look really forward to seeing its next incarnation.
The Supernova Festival continues this week with FOUR NEW SHOWS BEGINNING TOMORROW, TUESDAY, MAY 24th, 2011.
Week Two: May 24-29: Dedicated to the Revolutions, So…What About Love?, …and stockings for the ladies and WeeTube.
Tickets are on sale at the Neptune Theatre Box Office. Adults $25, Seniors/DND/Arts Workers $20, Students $15. *Same day, multiple show discount. We encourage you to catch a double (or triple or quadruple!) header. Your first ticket is full price, however if you purchase tickets for a 2nd, 3rd or 4th show on the same day, those tickets are 50% off.
In person: 1593 Argyle Street. Phone: 902-429-7070. Online. All prices include HST. Neptune service charges for phone and online orders not included. Check out the full schedule here.
The Carleton Music Bar and Grille on Argyle is the SuperNova Festival HotSpot. You’re invited to mix and mingle with the cast and crew every night after the final performance. Take your Supernova ticket stub with you and get 10% off your order.
See you at the Supernova!