Mystery plays with mind games
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic
Listen critically. If something doesn't seem credible, you're probably right.
Anticipate the plot twists. It's part of the fun to be a half-step ahead of the action. Even more fun if you guess right.
Be prepared for a pleasantly head-shaking finale that elevates the story line above that of a slippery mystery.
"Scotland Road" is a 90-minute play without intermission, written by Jeffrey Hatcher and inspired by a headline in a supermarket tabloid. A young woman (Alison Gal) is found by fishermen, floating alone on an iceberg in the north Atlantic. She says only one word, "Titanic."
It appears she survived the ship's sinking but has not aged a day during the intervening decades.
As the play unfolds, a professional Titanic expert (Richard MacPherson) is intent to prove her a fraud, inspired by the example of John Jacob Astor, who attended by his loyal valet went down into the waves like a gentleman. The expert claims to be Astor's grandson and a defender of the legends associated with the great ship.
The young woman's fragile condition is protected by a medical attendant (Melanie Garcia), until a meeting is arranged between her and a reclusive old woman, the last known survivor of the shipwreck.
Up to this point, the play is talky and a bit static. Beyond it, the play edges toward the bizarre.
The old woman (Ruth Pauline Brown) is herself another mystery, showing her hand with an enigmatic phrase delivered almost in capital letters, "That which kept you alive will be what you are for the rest of your life."
Scales begin to tip sharply, and character control begins to slosh about like deck chairs in high waves. It's delightful to watch MacPherson's expert character quickly disintegrate, and not to understand why until 15 minutes later. It's rewarding to see Gal's young woman grow in stature as she reveals the secrets beneath her secret.
And it's a great deal of fun to puzzle over Brown as the old woman, hoping we've guessed right, but denied any evidence by director Vanita Rae Smith who should be deservedly pleased at how her puppetry keeps the audience on edge.
The show's designers also work some subtle slight-of-hand: Karen Archibald gives us a chilling iceberg set, transformed by Janine Myers' lighting; and Bryan Furer demonstrates his transformation skill with hair and makeup.
A major clue to the underlying mystery lies in the play's title. It turns out that "Scotland Road" is the name of the passageway that linked the first-class part of the ship to its steerage section.
The play's climax is blatantly (and pleasingly) melodramatic, underscored with music and lighting effects that recreate the central characters' final encounter with their titanic destiny.
Joseph T. Rozmiarek is The Advertiser's drama critic.