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‘In the Soundless Awe’: Play co-written by Western Carolina University professor

‘In the Soundless Awe’: Play co-written by Western Carolina University professor

The haunting final moments of the man at the helm of the worse naval disaster 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.

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“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,” McGhan 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.” 

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. 

“We constructed a shallow pool of water, roughly one to two inches deep, out of a thick rubber membrane,” McGhan 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.

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 or calling 828.227.2479.

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