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BWW Review: Bridget Bean's Marvelous One-Woman Show, MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE, Is a Must-See at the Tampa Fringe

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BWW Review: Bridget Bean's Marvelous One-Woman Show, MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE, Is a Must-See at the Tampa Fringe

"We've lost something. It's lost and gone forever." --from MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE

I have a relative who died on the RMS Titanic. His name was Archibald Butt, my great-great-great-uncle, and before boarding the doomed ship, he was best known as President Taft's chief military advisor. One newspaper headline read: "Major Butt with Gun Saves People on Titanic." According to The New York Times, he heroically acted as an officer and guided many women and children to safety. The truth is probably more mundane; many of those accounts are 1912's equivalent of fake news. Some stories have him standing on the deck with John Jacob Astor, waving goodbye to those in the lifeboats. But the account that probably rings truest has him returning to the smoking room, spending his last hours playing cards and smoking his pipe as the band played on and the mighty ship sank into history.

Imagine my surprise when my relative, Major Archibald Butt, was mentioned more than once in Bridget Bean's marvelous one-woman show, MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE, currently running at the Tampa Fringe. There are so many top-tiered shows at this year's Fringe, all conveniently located at the HCC performing arts building in Ybor, and this Titanic tour, written and performed by Ms. Bean, must stand at or near the very top of the must-see experiences.

In MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE, Ms. Bean hopscotches from the present to the past, from reality to fiction, from Ms. Bean's autobiography to time travel fantasy, from museum guide to actual passenger, from a Titanic Dinner Cruise to the terrifying real deal, from the sadness of the loss of over 1500 people to the gooey cliched sounds of "My Heart Will Go On" from the movie Titanic. It's hilarious at times, appropriately heartbreaking at others, and always riveting. She does all of this with such ease, and the audience is never once lost. Although she portrays several characters, we always know who's speaking and in what time period.

Dressed in maid attire, and standing alone on a relatively sparse set, Ms. Bean is a born storyteller and a wonderful actress. There's an elation to her, a happy-happy joy to her performance here. It's so refreshing to watch someone delight in their work so much. And this enthusiasm gives extra weight to what we're experiencing. If it were all somber, all one-note woe-is-me-and-all-those-who-died-so-horrifically for sixty straight minutes, it would have turned into a flat-lined experience, a dour tour. But it's a life-affirming tale, albeit based in tragedy, zesty and mournful all at the same time. A remembrance and a celebration. Ms. Bean describes it best: "Sad, fascinating, glamorous, horrifying--all at once."

In a parallel storyline, Ms. Bean recounts her adventures in Florida, feeling out of place, missing her links with the past from another country. "I love this, how we're all connected," she says. "We wouldn't know these connections if not for the Titanic."

And yes, she even re-enacts the "I'm King of the World" pose from the movie.

But why Titanic? Why, 109 years after the disaster, does it still resonate with us, haunt our sea-going nightmares? Ms. Bean puts it in the proper perspective: Imagine Dog the Bounty Hunter, Harry and Meghan, Elon Musk, and a couple of Kardashians had perished in the same airplane crash; that's what the Titanic was like. All those famous and renowned people, including my great-great-great-uncle, facing a most grisly end. But it's also hubris that killed the beast. The Titanic was flouted as an unsinkable ship, a prideful yawp of the modern world flexing its muscles; it became a symbol that we must pay for progress. That nothing is unsinkable and that no one in the physical world is immortal. Some consider the sinking of the Titanic as the gateway to our modern age.

Ms. Bean is quite a writer. I love some of her imagery, some of the descriptions, like "a warm, woody swampy smell." That one stays with me.

Also of interest, and thankfully mentioned by Ms. Bean, is the list of names of people who were spared the tragedy, who didn't board the ship, people like JP Morgan and Milton Hershey. ("Could we survive on Nestle products alone?" she asks.) This also begs a question: Why were they spared but so many others killed? It's like the questions after 9/11, the people who were late to work and, thus, survived the fall of the Twin Towers. Or why a young man, Steven Parent, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and killed by the Manson Family at Sharon Tate's house, while (according to myth) Jerzi Kosinski didn't go to the Tate place that night due to a missing suitcase at the airport. Ms. Bean doesn't go into such depths with this, but her query led me to do so. It's a chilling thought, and it stuck with me on the ride home.

"How do you think the unthinkable?" Ms. Bean asks, a question that haunts every second of her sixty minute show.

Directed quite strongly by local theatre hero, James Rayfield, MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE is a gift to our area. Tampa plays an important part in the work, mainly because it plays an important part in Ms. Bean's life, who ventured here from England due to an ill-fated love. Her work as a tour guide at the Titanic exhibit ultimately led to this. She tells her story, and the parallel story of Mrs. Bliss on the Titanic, to pay homage to these souls, both the survivors and the dead. "All we can do," she says, "is tell the stories and honor the victims."

This is a "don't miss" Tampa Fringe performance if there ever was one. "Entertainers are fearless," Ms. Bean mentions at one point in her show. She should know. That's one of the words I would use to describe her. Fearless. Heartfelt. Real. And, of course, blissful.

There are three more performances of MRS. BLISS'S TITANIC ADVENTURE: Sunday, August 1st @ 7:00 PM; Saturday, August 7th @ 7:00 PM; and Sunday, August 8th @ 1:00 PM. For tickets, please go to www.TampaFringe.org.


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