American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

FINAL PASSAGES (first perf. as Derelict, 1982; pub. 1992). Written by Tony award winner Robert Schenkkan (1953-?), Final Passages is a play based on an incident that occurred off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1878, when the Elizabeth Watson discovered the San Cristobal adrift and apparently abandoned. In the play, a boarding party determines the cargo to be intact, although the crew are dead, most of them on deck around a table. By reading the journal left by Tom, the cabin boy of the San Cristobal., Captain Craig discovers a story of a crew undone by an attractive woman. The mysterious Countess had seduced Lieutenant Brand, a father figure to Tom, while Tom watches through a peephole into her cabin. She then sleeps with Tom. It is a sexual initiation for him, but for her it is only a fling before marrying Brand. When the Countess, in emotional turmoil over her two lovers, accuses Tom of stealing from her, Tom is flogged, and the Countess marries Brand. Tom puts rat poison in the wine, murdering everyone on board, and disappears.

The sea in Final Passages is both a male domain and a jealous lover. In marrying the Countess, Brand threatens to abandon not only Tom but also the sea. The sea is a place of mystery and dreams, in different ways for Tom, the Countess, and Captain Craig. The play’s structure follows that of many maritime ghost* stories, where a sailing ship encounters a ghost ship, jeopardizing its own course. There are references to the Flying Dutchman legend and to sailors’ superstitions and habits, and a sea chantey is included for musical accompaniment. [See also DRAMA OF THE SEA]

Gwen Orel