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|A CurtainUp Review
When you enter the Primary Stage theater, there's little on stage to give any indication what Scotland Road is about, just a rocking chair behind a white scrim. Then, as the lights begin to dim you hear the crunching sound of ice and rippling water. Almost before you realize what is happening, the chair gives way to a giant projection of an iceberg. Blackout!
The iceberg is replaced by a cell-like white room which could be a hospital, a sanitarium or some sort of debriefing center. It is the room where a dapper Englishman named John (Daniel Gerroll) and a reluctantly cooperative doctor of (Leslie Lyles) have brought a beautiful young Welsh woman (Katy Selverstone) who was found floating on an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic and saying just one word: "Titanic." Her nineteenth century clothing and the dramatic utterance establish the surreal premise that she may or may not have been floating on that iceberg since the great ship sank.
These first brief high energy scenes also set the dramatic pattern for the ninety minutes that follow. More short scenes with often staccato, at times absurdist dialogue, always followed by the discombobulating blackouts. John's obsessive quest to establish the real identity of that young woman will keep you at the edge of your seat. Are you watching a boat-based variation of the Anastasia hoax dramas or of a supernatural tale like Lost Horizons? Since nobody turns out to be who they seem to be, who's fooling who? To add to the puzzlement there's the clue of yet another word --Astor-- that suddenly changes the whole equation from establishing the identity of the girl to establishing the cause for the interrogator's own obsessiveness.
Since this is a thriller, I won't spoil things by going into any further detail about the plot developments. I will say that it's an intriguing play, ably interpreted by its four-member cast -- with the fourth cast member Scotty Bloch as a reclusive Titanic survivor adding a needed break from John's probing just when his relentlessness is beginning to grow tiresome. This shift in focus and Melia Bensussen's stylish direction keeps the play consistently entertaining even though it finally stumbles on its utter implausibility.
To put those of you coming to this play "cold" without having read some of the background publicity on an even playing field for figuring out this conundrum, a few items about the title and the playwright's inspiration.
Scotland Road is the name given to the central passageway that ran the length of the ship allowing crew members to pass from First Class to steerage. Thus you won't be off base if you see the playwright trying to establish the psychological links between first class and steerage passengers.
According to a recent article by Mr. Hatcher, the play's reason for being stems from having read a biography and a tabloid headline within days of each other. The biography was of the Godwin and Shelley families which related how Mary Shelley's father, a respected writer and rationalist, became absorbed by a newspaper story about the frozen body of a man that had been recovered in the alps. When "defrosted" this man declared that he had been caught in an avalanche in 1660. Godwin tried to set up an interview with this 200-year-old ice man only to find the story that had shaken his rationalism was indeed a hoax. The day after reading this book, Hatcher came across a headline in a tabloid which read "Titanic Survivor Found on Iceberg." His playwriting instinct immediately clicked into overdrive as his imagination strung together the elements that were to become Scotland Road or as he sums up the elements that set him off: "A mysterious woman with a secret. A rational man desperate to believe. A shared obsession. A locked Room. Some twists, some turns. An iceberg. The Titanic."
His idea has paid off with a play that has enjoyed numerous production before arriving in New York for this current limited run. The booming mania for anything-Titanic (from Titanic: The Musical, to Titanic: The Movie to the ever-growing bookshelf of Titanic books (See our review of the musical and our Titanic Book List). As already mentioned, the direction and performances are up to the high standards I've come to expect from anything presented at Primary Stages. Credit is also due to the versatile James Noone for his simple but highly effective set and the always amazing music and sound design of David Van Tieghem.