Exactly 100 years ago on April 15, more than 1,500 passengers died when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk into dark, icy waters. The catastrophe, despite its enormity, possesses an air of romance.
“Here’s a tragic event, but it’s been re-created in this very romantic film. It’s been re-created in a Broadway-style musical,” said Frank Barnhart, a Columbus State theater instructor who has written a new play about the ship. “It’s hard to imagine Sept. 11 being portrayed as a musical theater piece.”
Beyond the vessel’s beauty and the exoticism of sea travel, modern audiences are drawn to the accounts of heroism and devotion, such as the women who refused spots in lifeboats because it meant leaving their husbands behind.
“Those stories are the true tests of love,” Barnhart said. The last thing Barnhart wanted to do, though, was to romanticize their stories.
His “Titanic: A Retrospective,” which Columbus State students will premiere this week, follows about 50 characters from the beginning of the ship’s journey until they’re rescued by the RMS Carpathia. All of the characters were real people, and the words they speak are quotes Barnhart found in newspaper articles and transcriptions of witness testimony from trials investigating the accident.
“It was important to me that the words spoken in the play be words that were actually spoken by witnesses and survivors,” he explained. He also gives the passengers who didn’t survive a voice. “Some of it is, ‘The last thing I ever heard him say was ...’”