The world is not waiting for me to comment on the tragic drama staged this week on the wet rocks of Italy. But I have a writer’s compulsion to inventory the human beings who play out their roles as the rest of us gape in sympathy, horror and amusement.
“O for a muse of fire!” cried Shakespeare’s Chorus in Henry V. Well, no, we don’t need such an inspiration for this play. We just let our eyes wander across the media for a glimpse at each actor.
Costa Concordia Carnival—A play in many acts
Dramatis Personae (in order of appearance)
The captain—Dashing, dark-haired Francesco Schettino, who piles into a life-boat to save himself while frightened tourists stumble about a darkened deck. Schettino is the coward in all of us. He is the man we know we are not…but dread becoming in a crisis. Thank you Captain Schettino for reminding us of our duty. Thank you for showing us how facing an additional 60 minutes of chaos can spare oneself a lifetime of shame.
Micky Arison—CEO of Carnival Corporation, which owns the Costa Cruises company and the flipped-on-its-side cruise ship. The New York Times says that Arison “has taken a low-key position, allowing the head of his Italian subsidiary to handle the accident’s fallout.” Round-faced and smiling, Arison—who inherited Carnival Corporation from his father and also owns a pro basketball team—has a key role in our play: He is the distant feudal lord who is always out of town when fire devastates a village, flu ravages the countryside, and a vicious sheriff robs and rapes without restraint. “M’lord Arison is not at the castle this season.”
Ted Turner and Richard Branson—These are rival lords who instinctively know how to lead and show the world what it is to own a company. Based on their personal branding, one can imagine Turner or Branson, in a similar disaster, hopping on a jet to the scene of tragedy and handing out hot soup to survivors and taking every press interview while dressed in a tan jacket with large pockets and epaulets.
Passengers—Too poor to afford their own boats, too old to endure the rocking of a smaller vessel, too scared for the Atlantic, too unimaginative to chart their own travels, too middle-class to seek great opera and chic bistros, too lazy to cook their own meals, too burned out by a hard life to hike or marathon, too desperate to entertain their children but happy to relegate them to plastic play-scapes, our passengers find themselves confronted by nothing less than death itself—and show their mettle and their frailty and their capacity to survive.
Ship's crew—More than a thousand strong, our riotously festooned crew-members frolic on stage in aprons, plumed hats, smart red jackets with gold buttons, tiny bikinis with patterned black stockings, grimy tee-shirts soaked in soapy water, black cut-away jackets with cummerbunds, high heels and skimpy cocktail dresses, and spooky black robes. What a dazzling throng they are! Oh yes, and a few here and there are dressed as actual sailors.
Italian Coast Guard officer—Known only as a gruff, commanding voice from off-stage. This official sensibly instructs our Captain Schettino to leave the safety of his life-boat and climb up the ship’s ladder to help coordinate the evacuation. He is clear and decisive—a communicator of simple, masculine eloquence: “There are corpses!” he tells the captain. “But it is dark,” comes the whining reply. “People fighting for their lives and you want to go home?” mocks the Coast Guardsman. In mounting frustration and anger he commands: “Go back on board! Now!” Ah but… well, see above... our Captain Schettino is not allowed, in our script, to do what’s right, and the Coast Guardsman is left to cry in the wilderness.
These are our players. A 114,000-ton vessel is our stage. The world is our audience. And “O the humanity” our unending story.