CTSA Explores the Aftermath of Titanic in a World Premiere Play by Luke Yankee

The Last Lifeboat written by Luke Yankee, Directed by Don Hill
IRVINE, Calif. (Oct. 16, 2014) -- The Claire Trevor School of the Arts (CTSA) at the University of California, Irvine is pleased to announce the world premiere of a new play by award-winning playwright Luke Yankee. The Last Lifeboat is the untold story of J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, whose decision to save himself rather than go down with the ship made him the scapegoat for one of the greatest disasters of all time. An ensemble cast playing multiple roles tells this epic tale which explores not only the tragedy itself, but the sensationalized trials and aftermath of the night that changed the world forever. The production will be directed and produced by Don Hill, Vice Chair of the UCI Drama Department. “The idea for the play came to me while I was on a cruise in Nova Scotia, which is the closest land mass to where the ship sank,” says Yankee. “I did an all-day Titanic tour and the guide spoke about how the disaster shattered Ismay’s life, because his survivor’s guilt was so intense. After the inquiry into the shipwreck, he was forced out of his company and became a Howard Hughes kind of recluse for the rest of his life. I thought, ‘With everything that’s been written about the Titanic, here’s a fascinating story that’s never been told.’” Yankee spent the next several months doing research before he began writing a screenplay version, and finally, the play. When Yankee approached Stephen Sultan, who was then the President of Dramatists Play Service (the largest publisher of plays in the world), Sultan was initially reticent to produce a play that was so new it had not yet received a major production. But, given the universal fascination with the Titanic, coupled with the fact that The Last Lifeboat is performed by an ensemble cast playing multiple roles on a practically bare stage, Sultan immediately saw the potential -- particularly for regional theatres, schools and amateur groups. He contacted Yankee and said he’d be happy to publish it. Yankee then contacted nationally syndicated critic Rex Reed and asked him if he’d be willing to read the script and give him a quote. Reed wrote, “Imagine the epic story of the drama behind the sinking of the Titanic, revealed with easy, minimal staging on a bare stage. Luke Yankee has written a surging drama that is riveting, dramatic, educational and entertaining all at the same time. The Last Lifeboat is destined to become a theatre classic!” Yankee developed a screenplay version of The Last Lifeboat at the DreamAgo Writer’s Workshop in Sierre, Switzerland. He was one of ten writers chosen internationally for the week-long program in the Swiss Alps, where five Oscar-nominated screenwriters mentored him on the project. “While I am very excited about the screenplay,” says Yankee, “it’s a big, epic story in the vein of The King’s Speech. I wanted to see if I could tell the story as simply as possible, on a practically bare stage with a small cast playing multiple roles.” Director Don Hill has been head of the Graduate Stage Management program at UC Irvine for the past ten years. Prior to that, he was one of the chief negotiators for the western region of Actors Equity Association, associate producer at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera (one of the largest musical theatres in America), and production manager at the Geffen Playhouse. He has directed and produced all over the country and was a protégé of the late John Houseman at USC, where Mr. Hill received an MFA in Directing. The leading role of J. Bruce Ismay will be played by Noah Wagner. No stranger to Southern California stages, Mr. Wagner is the recipient of three Drama-Logue Awards and an LA Stage Scene Award for Best Actor. He has appeared in leading roles at The Matrix, The Celebration Theatre, The Knightsbridge, Theatre Banshee and the Long Beach Playhouse. His television credits include guest starring roles on NBC, PBS and the Disney Channel, among others. The Last Lifeboat is being designed by Emmy-winning set designer, John Iacovelli. One of the most sought after designers in America, his more than 300 set design credits include Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan, production designer for the TV series Babylon 5, a recent production of Kiss Me, Kate at The Pasadena Playhouse starring Wayne Brady, and numerous shows at the Mark Taper Forum, The Geffen Playhouse, South Coast Repertory and many others. He is also on the faculty of the Theatre Department at UC Davis. In addition to the UC Irvine students in the ensemble, other guest artists in the production include Los Angeles and Orange County theatre veterans George Almond, Harriet Whitmyer and Tom Juarez. Yankee’s other plays include The Jesus Hickey starring Harry Hamlin (which premiered at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles) and the award-winning A Place at Forest Lawn, which has been presented at several regional theatres and was also published by Dramatists Play Service. He is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart, published by Random House, with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore. Critics have praised the book as “One of the most compassionate, illuminating showbiz books ever written.” He is currently in the graduate program at UC Riverside (Palm Desert), where he is working towards an MFA in Writing for the Performing Arts. The Last Lifeboat will be presented in the Experimental Media Performance Lab (xMPL) in the Contemporary Arts Center on the campus of UC Irvine. Production dates are Friday Nov. 14th at 8 pm, Saturday, Nov. 15th at 2 & 8 pm, Sun. Nov. 16th at 2 pm, Thurs. & Fri, Nov. 20 & 21st at 8 pm, Sat. Nov. 22nd at 2 & 8 pm and Sun. Nov 23rd at 2 pm. Tickets are available through the UCI Box office at (949) 824-2787 or online at www.arts.uci/tickets.