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'Scotland Road': Unsinkable Obsession

By Lloyd Rose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 25, 1997; Page E01

Jeffrey Hatcher, whose strange, funny, intellectually adventurous "Scotland Road" opened last weekend at Source Theatre, is a genuine original. Anyone who saw Source's production of his "Three Viewings" last season got a taste of his mixture of quirkiness and sorrow, as well as his wit and ability to surprise.

"Scotland Road" is both more ambitious and more successful than that evening of three monologues -- a spooky story that's also a fable about the psychopathy of art. Pat Murphy Sheehy, Source artistic director and the director of this production, is to be congratulated for her discovery and support of such an interesting writer, though as a director she doesn't serve the script well.

In a stark white room in the present day, the mysterious and unpleasant John (Wynn Hollingsworth) questions a silent young woman (Susan Lynskey) who was recently found dressed in Victorian clothing and floating on an iceberg; the one word she has uttered is "Titanic."

John quickly reveals himself to be an expert on the history of that disaster, perhaps even obsessed with it. Other than that, we don't know much about him, except that he's wealthy enough to have hired a doctor to look after the young woman while he questions her, and ruthless enough to have virtually kidnapped the girl.

He's convinced she's a hoax. "You pervert sacred memory," he accuses her, and it soon becomes clear that he has a personal connection with the Titanic, though the exact, unexpected nature of that connection isn't revealed until the very end.

Dr. Halbrech (Michaeleen O'Neil) may have some doubts about John's motives, but his princely payments keep her quiet. Still, in an attempt to get the girl off the hook, she tracks down the only living Titanic survivor, a feisty wheelchair-bound nonagenarian named Frances Kittle (Beverly Brigham), who has an extra twist to add to the story. On one level, the whole Kittle plot element is just an elaborate joke, but Hatcher is skilled enough to make it work as part of the play.

Fundamentally, "Scotland Road" is a study of obsession, not just as a personality trait but as the source of creativity, the fountainhead from which both art and madness spring.

If the play is to work for an audience, we need to identify early with John and follow him with at least some sympathy through the action. Unfortunately, Hollingsworth hasn't gotten a handle on the character. He starts out sinister and smarmy, and when John turns out to be more complex than he seems originally, nothing Hollingsworth does or has done makes you believe it. The play is John's story, but in this production we're not interested in John.

O'Neil does what she can with her underwritten part -- you keep wondering why the doctor goes along with the peculiar proceedings as much as she does. Brigham is delightful as the no-nonsense Kittle, whose acerbity pierces the pretentiousness of John's assumptions. Lynskey, her red hair tied back in a long braid, is mysterious when silent and intriguing when the character finally begins to speak.

Tony Cisek's minimalist set is the perfect bowl to hold William A. Price III's moody, beautiful lighting effects, and Mark A. Anduss's groaning sound evokes the sea, a creaking ship and human misery.

This poetic support is vital, since the direction is laborious and unfocused and hides as much of the play as it reveals. With patience, though, you can get past the production and appreciate Hatcher's curious and tantalizing script.

Scotland Road, by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Pat Murphy Sheehy.
Costumes, Margaret Weedon; props, Lynnie Raybuck.
Through March 16 at Source Theatre, 202-462-1073.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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