Review: New Rep’s ‘Jimmy Titanic’ never lets go…of the humor

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Though “Jimmy Titanic” may lack the Hollywood sizzle of the film “Titanic,” this charming, compelling interpretation of one of the biggest maritime disasters of all time is far more appealing.

As it turns out, simple storytelling, dry Irish humor, and an incredibly talented creative team are all you really need to capture the gut-wrenching horror and seemingly inhumane reality of the ill-fated ship’s calamitous date with destiny. And yet, this one-man play is also a finely tuned comedic production. With nothing more than a black box and Tyler Lambert-Perkins’ impeccably-executed lighting design, Colin Hamell takes the audience on a journey from Belfast to heaven courtesy of 20-plus intriguing — and sometimes outlandish — characters.

Hamell effortlessly morphs from mortal characters like Jimmy Boylan and Tommy Mackey (the story’s main characters) into celestial beings like the swishy, effeminate angel Gabriel and heaven’s ladies’ man, title character Jimmy Titanic, with little more than a slight gesture or vocal inflection.
The transitions are seamless and quick, but hardly effortless. Hamell is a whirlwind of activity in an 80-minute performance that vacillates between hilarity and heartbreak at lightning speed. Whether regaling the crowd with tales of his dating life in heaven (where the women love men who perished on the Titanic), playing the blame game in Belfast, or watching the ship depart wondering “what (do) they have in America that we don’t have here in Cork?,” Hamell’s characters are all consistently masterful storytellers.

Be prepared to laugh out loud one minute while choking back tears the next. By adding names and faces, whether real or fanciful, playwright Bernard McMullan finds fresh fodder in old material. Likewise, director Carmel O’Reilly leaves no stone unturned in her tender and intermittently quirky interpretation of the tale that’s been told many times before — but never quite like this.


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