Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Review of Act 2 Playhouse's production of "Scotland Road"

Traveling art exhibits. Deep-sea recovery excursions. A Broadway musical; before that, the greatest film blockbuster of all time. Or, as playwright Jeffrey Hatcher puts it in his notes on Scotland Road, “A mysterious woman with a secret. A rational man desperate to believe. A shared obsession. The Titanic.”

Why this endless nostalgia for a disaster we never knew?

In Act 2’s production of Hatcher’s play, a woman (Emma O’Donnell) appears stranded on an ice floe in the Northern Atlantic, saying only one word, “Titanic.” The only problem, she looks no more than twenty years old. Is she what she claims, or a hoax designed to ensnare?

John (Peter Schmitz), a descendant of one who perished on the voyage, brings her to a secluded location, bent on discovering her identity, somehow knowing that it contains the key to his own. And there begins one of the most compelling psychological mysteries I’ve seen on stage.

O’Donnell and Schmitz captivate as the interrogator and interrogated. She gives a mesmerizing performance, contrasting a grim delicateness in the first half with a commanding ability to reduce Schmitz to a writhing spectacle in the second. He responds flawlessly, starting both irritating and manipulative, slowly crumbling until she breaks him, only to redeem his character in the last moments of the play.

And that’s the kick in this production—waiting for it to end, not to understand it, but to know what has happened and why. In this respect, Alan Blumenthal’s direction is absolutely faultless, building tension up to each blackout, only to resume it a notch higher in the next scene. The pauses, just long enough for the actors and props to change are an almost unwelcome element, necessary only for the audience to catch their breath.

Hatcher’s play frustrates, irritates, and captivates—but the urgency is yours, not his, and he knows it, drawing the story along, adding a new layer of mystery underneath each one that the plot strips away, draining your nerves while shattering your beliefs. When the play finally ends, the real question asked by Scotland Road becomes apparent at last.

Not who are these characters, but who are we? The real fascination with the Titanic is that we all do what John does in the play—define ourselves in relation to how we think we’d act in a disaster that demands either extreme courage or abject cowardice. In this, the play reveals the untested answers and illusions we hold in our own minds, beliefs that form part of the core of our own identities.

And what the play shows is that most of the time, if we were somehow transported back to the recurrence of a catastrophe (like the Titanic), we just might see that we’re trapped in the hull of a ship, no longer bounded by what we’d like to believe of ourselves, but by the truth, slowly sinking into an icy sea.

What would you have done on the deck of that fated ship? See this play, then think again.

1 comment:

Cirila said...

Well said.