1942’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire was one of the greatest tragedies in Boston history, claiming the lives of nearly 500, and injuring many more. Now, a Texas playwright is reimagining the event as a stage production in Boston.
On Wednesday, Inferno: Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942, a play by James Hansen Prince, will premiere at the Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. It will mark the first theatrical production to be performed about the devastating nightclub blaze, and as a Texan, Prince is surprised it has taken so long.
“The heroism was amazing. … There’s so many incredible stories, the way the whole city came together to help people out,’’ Prince told The Boston Globe. “I don’t know why a guy from Texas has to do a seminal Boston story.’’
The cause of the Cocoanut Grove fire remains a mystery today, but tales from the blaze are aplenty. According to the Globe, Prince’s production centers around a few different characters, including Barnett Welansky, the Cocoanut Grove’s owner, Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, and Stanley Tomaszewski, a 16-year-old busboy whom many believe started the fire.
Not all of the characters in the play are historical figures, though. Prince also created a newspaper reporter named Margaret Wilson in order to add a lead female character and a new twist to the storyline. The full production is a collage of several accounts by survivors and witnesses. Prince told the Globe that his goal was to produce an historically balanced recreation of one of Boston’s most mysterious tragedies.
Inferno: Fire at the Cocoanut Grove 1942 opens February 26 and will run through April 3. For more information and tickets, visit the Boston Center for the Arts website.