By Carolyn Saxe, Thomas Wootton High School
Three violinists stood alone on deck in the cold moonlight, playing one final encore to the passengers of the ship as they sank into icy waters. The lifeboats had left by now, carrying the women and children of the Titanic away. All except one.
This lifeboat’s story, The Case of the Invisible Body, was the second act of That Sinking Feeling, a play by Brant Powell. Originally produced and performed locally, Broad Run High School reached out to the playwright for permission to film, which was gladly given. Each act of the play focused on a different lifeboat attempting to flee from the Titanic while absurd events occurred. The second lifeboat followed an oddball assortment of characters trying to solve a mystery that a drunken mystery writer insisted had happened while the officer in charge tried to make him leave. By the end of the act, the lifeboat sunk with the ship as the characters realized they could not escape and accepted the actions that led them to that fate.
There was a boatload of challenges to overcome in the production of this play during quarantine, but everyone involved certainly made the most of it. Filmed on greenscreen with each actor isolated and using clear facemasks, safety guidelines were met without losing chemistry or emotion. All the actors were excellent at staying upbeat while acting alone, and combined with the slick editing, it was easy to forget they were not in the same room.
Each actor played their role with comfortable attitude, be it Vivian’s snark or Claire’s ditzy-ness. Sarah Jakubowski, who played Claire Ingram, brought so much sweet air-headed buoyancy to the role she could have saved the Titanic from sinking. On the other side of the comedy-tragedy spectrum, Tristan Fishel played Jaques Frutrelle’s inebriated incredulousness with confidence and seriousness, all the while gripping the side of the boat trying not to allow the reappearance of his wine. These two, as well as all the other actors, did this with strong, unwavering, and varied accents. Everyone, except for Kaitlyn Kirkpatrick. Of course, she played Tabitha Buttons, the mime, so though she had no speaking lines, her outstanding physicality and facial expressions proved more than equal to an accent.
The show’s tech teams’ effort is clearly visible in the show. The beginning and ending songs feature violins, reminding both the characters and the audience of the musicians still onboard and of the overall theme. The actors were very audible, though their masks would muffle the sound at times. The editing team’s work was impressive, the flow and cohesiveness would never betray that this was many students’ first time editing a film this long, with especially seamless greenscreen work. The inclusion of a physical, handmade boat set made it all the more believable, as did the costumes. A lot of thought was put into every costume to fit each character’s personality, from the pen in Jacques’ shirt pocket as a hint to his job, to Vivian’s black mourning clothes contrasted with the shiny, expensive jewelry around her neck to make it clear she’s a black widow through and through.
This funny yet chilling vignette into the end of the Titanic will leave you feeling like you’ve fallen into the arctic waters yourself, listening to the coda of those three violins.
[This review of the March 13 performance at Broad Run High Schoolis part of a series published in a partnership betweenLoudoun Nowand The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]