[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond careers and work in “Sabbath.”]
A Forgotten Tragedy Inspires a Great New Play
Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company has a history of producing original, inventive work. Its latest production Eastland, A New Musical follows in that tradition and might even raise the bar. The play is based on a 1915 disaster in Chicago in which a tour boat capsized in the Chicago River, killing over 400 people. While the play is based on this historical event, it dives much deeper into what happened to the people who died on the ship, their lives before the tragedy, and its meaning on an individual level.
I saw this play a few hours ago. Normally, I’m not a fan of musicals. However, author Andrew White and his musical partners Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman write lyrics and tunes that never call undue attention to themselves. Instead, they are fully integrated into the play and add to its power.
There is no one dominant character in this play. The tragedy affects all equally, victims, survivors, and characters who were not on the ship, such as an undertaker who cannot believe the number of corpses or a firefighter who is indignant with the ship’s captain and his excuses. White juxtaposes scenes on the sunken ship with those that occurred earlier in the characters’ lives, which helps us understand the pain, joy, and hope they felt before they boarded the Eastland.
I can’t recommend this play highly enough. It is thoughtful and powerful in reminding us how one day can change everything.
Postscript: Eastland has been extended through August 19 – if you’re in or near Chicago, go see this play. If you’re not near Chicago, plan a trip – see this play!
A novel that I read recently Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann follows a similar plot structure, building its story around the day Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. If you don’t see the play, read this book. Better still, do both.