The haunting final moments of the man at the helm of one of the worst naval disasters in U.S. history will be portrayed as Western Carolina University’s School of Stage and Screen presents “In the Soundless Awe,” a play co-written by Jayme McGhan, associate professor and director of the school.
The production, part of WCU’s Mainstage theater season, will be staged at Hoey Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, through Saturday, Nov. 19, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20.
On July 30, 1945, during the height of World War II, the USS Indianapolis was hit by two Japanese torpedoes, killing 300 sailors in the initial blast and leaving 900 to drift helplessly in the Pacific Ocean. Only 321 survivors were found in the ocean when rescuers arrived five days later.
“Twenty-two years later, Charles Butler McVay III, the wrongly court-martialed and disgraced captain of the USS Indianapolis, puts a gun to his head after many years of night terrors where specters, human and otherwise, call to him from below,” McGhan said. “‘In the Soundless Awe’ is a horrific and heartbreaking imagining of McVay’s final nightmare.”
Before joining the WCU faculty in early 2015, McGhan was associate professor and artistic director of the theater program at Concordia University Chicago. A nationally recognized playwright, he wrote “In the Soundless Awe” with fellow playwright Andy Pederson, associate professor of English at Concordia.
The play gained a highly coveted “#1 Show to See” rating from the NY Theatre Guide after its run in New York City last fall, and it will have its Chicago premiere in June, McGhan said. “We tried to imagine what Captain McVay’s experience might have been after suffering for so long from the erroneous guilt and horror over the sinking of the Indy. It was a very emotional piece to write,” he said.
“The faculty of stage and screen decided to produce the show after the successful run in New York City, especially given that WCU is a military-friendly institution, and the stories of servicemen and servicewomen are often missing from the American stage,” McGhan said.
All retired and active duty members of the military will receive free admission to the production in honor of their service. Those individuals should mention their service to the box office staff to receive a complimentary ticket. “Please be advised that the play does include intense scenes of carnage and sounds and imagery that may trigger those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” McGhan said.
The play is an especially exciting one to produce from a technical standpoint because the action takes place in a basin of water built on stage, McGhan said. “We constructed a shallow pool of water, roughly 1 to 2 inches deep, out of a thick rubber membrane,” he said. “There also is a safety pool built underneath the main pool to serve as a catch in case of failure. The pool spreads across the entirety of the stage and is meant to invoke a sense of the seemingly endless ocean for the audience.”
The production also utilizes cutting-edge video, projection and sound design created by guest artist Andy Evan Cohen, a New York City-based sound and projection designer, McGhan said.
“In the Soundless Awe” is being directed by Claire Eye, coordinator of WCU’s theatre arts program. McVay will be portrayed by Silas Waugh, a sophomore acting major from Catawba. The cast also includes Lauren Hunkele, a junior musical theatre major from Concord; Alexandra Catlin, a senior musical theatre major from Canton, Georgia; Charlie Cannon, a junior musical theatre major from Greenville; Briar Boggs, a junior acting major from Orange Park, Florida; Libby Rounds, a senior musical theatre major from Charlotte; Ian Scott, a junior acting major from Burlington; Autumn Bryson, a junior acting major from Sylva; Lizzie LaRocca, a senior acting major from Apex; Kelsey Aycock, a junior musical theatre major from Henderson; Jordyn Tracy, a junior acting major from Simpsonville, South Carolina; Callista Brown, a freshman acting major from Portage, Michigan; and James Cates, a sophomore acting major from Winston-Salem.
Others contributing to the production are Chris Driver, a senior majoring in theatre arts from Pisgah Forest, pre-recorded voiceover; Kylee Verhoff, a senior musical theatre major from Jacksonville, assistant director; Glenna Neilson, a senior majoring in theater design/tech from Holly Springs, stage manager; Brigham Johnson, a junior theater design/tech major from Chapel Hill, assistant stage manager; Lena Armas, a sophomore musical theatre major from Coral Springs, Florida, assistant stage manager; D.J. Williams, a junior theatre arts major from Indian Trail, choreographer; and Alexandra Catlin, a senior musical theatre major from Canton, Georgia, assistant choreographer and dance captain.
Tickets for “In the Soundless Awe” are $11 for WCU faculty and staff, and seniors; $16 for adults; and $10 for students on the day of the show and $7 in advance. Tickets can be purchased from the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center by visiting bardoartscenter.wcu.edu or calling 828-227-2479.