Two acts of war

Heidi Wicks
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Kevin Major explores the sinking of the SS Caribou in his latest play for Rising Tide Theatre

Beloved author Kevin Major is known for capturing the province's history in the context of world events and local hearts, and his new work, "Lead Me Home," is no different.

Following the survivors of the SS Caribou - a civilian vessel that was torpedoed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by a German submarine during the Second World War, killing 137 passengers - the play is in two acts, with no intermission.

Beloved author Kevin Major is known for capturing the province's history in the context of world events and local hearts, and his new work, "Lead Me Home," is no different.

Following the survivors of the SS Caribou - a civilian vessel that was torpedoed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence by a German submarine during the Second World War, killing 137 passengers - the play is in two acts, with no intermission.

"The first half takes place in the lounge of the Caribou - it was a beautifully appointed ship, they had a great lounge with a piano, so I make use of that quite extensively in the first act. And there's lots of World War II music throughout.

"The passengers were quite upbeat because the people on the ship didn't realize, of course, that it was going to happen," explained the author, who first became interested in the Caribou while researching his book, "As Near to Heaven by Sea" (2002).

The first act is also interspersed with cuts to Caribou Capt. Ben Taverner and the commander of the German U-Boat, both of whom are scanning the darkness for signs of danger. The first act ends in chaos as the boat is struck.

"The second act then follows a lifeboat of six survivors (there were 101), who we were introduced to in the first act. We basically follow their struggle for survival," Major said, adding that some of these characters are based on real survivors.

The stories of the individuals who were aboard the boat are heartbreaking yet hopeful.

"William Lundrigan was one survivor who became a prominent entrepreneur from Corner Brook - Lundrigan's Construction was very well known during the '40s, '50s and '60s in Newfoundland.

"And there were two nurses from the Prairies who were thrown into the water after the torpedo. They clung to each other for endless hours, until finally a wave washed one of them away and the other was left to survive having just lost her friend. And there was a young child, Leonard Sheers, who was separated from his mother, Gladys. Gladys is aboard the lifeboat and doesn't know what happened to her 15-month-old son."

One major aspect of war stories is always the other side. In western, and particularly in American storytelling, the Germans are frequently viewed as evil monsters - a notion which is incorrect, in Major's opinion.

"It takes a broader perspective than just the sinking of this boat," he said, noting that the Second World War didn't come any closer to Newfoundland than through this tragedy, which killed so many locals.

"Erlich Graf was the German UBoat commander who torpedoed the Caribou. He was 26 years old, and he had a job, and likely a family. Eighty per cent of these commanders died in World War II, and we know from history that Graf's ship was also torpedoed later, and he was killed.

"So, I'm trying to look at it from their perspective - they had wives, children and jobs to do. I'm sure they weren't happy about having to bomb these ships. I'm sure many of these commanders had hopes and dreams. War is war, but I think unless I brought a broader perspective, you wouldn't see the full scope of what it does to people everywhere."

"Lead Me Home" premiered with Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity Wednesday, and runs throughout the summer. For performance dates and times, Rising Tide's calendar can be viewed at http://www.risingtidetheatre.com/index.php?option=com_events&Itemid=19.

with Accent XL Laser & LipoDissolve

Organizations: Rising Tide Theatre, Laser & LipoDissolve

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Corner Brook

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