Scotland Road

By Jeffrey Hatcherposter_scotlandroad_large

Directed by Charles Riffenburg

Associate Directed by Cassy Schillo

Produced by BoHo Theatre, Chicago

Bizarre Mystery Play Keeps Its Secrets

Since starting his career in the late 1980s, Jeffrey Hatcher has become famous as an adaptor, writing the screenplays of Tuesdays with Morrie and Stage Beauty, from his own play, Compleat Female Stage Beauty. But for their latest production, BoHo Theatre has reached back to one of Hatcher’s earliest plays, Scotland Road, which was written and takes place in 1992. It presents the situation of a woman in 1912 clothing being found on an iceberg by Norwegian fishermen, and uttering the word Titanic before collapsing. The play has always been controversial, and I expect that audience reactions to BoHo’s production will also vary widely.

Scotland Road, BoHo Theatre, Chicago
Stephanie Sullivan, Jesse Dornan, and Skyler Schrempp

The sudden appearance of the woman on the iceberg (Skyler Schrempp) creates a tabloid sensation, but a man named John (Jesse Dornan) gets to her before anyone else. He confines her to a hospital under the supervision of a psychologist friend of his, Dr. Halbrech (Stephanie Sullivan), and is determined to prove her a fraud. That proves difficult, because the woman does not speak. John tries different strategies to trick her: turning the heat up high so she’ll give away that she knows what air conditioning is, providing her with elegant flatware to see if she knows which fork to use for which food, but nothing works. He becomes increasingly frustrated, as the memory of The Titanic is sacred to him to the point of obsession, and a hoax would insult the honored dead. Halbrech makes some insufficient attempts to shield the woman, but John becomes increasingly abusive. Only when Halbrech reveals that he is a descendent of John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest victim of the Titanic, does the woman break her silence.

Scotland Road, BoHo Theatre, Chicago
Jesse Dornan and Skyler Schrempp

Schrempp’s sly, seductive performance leads credence to John’s suspicion that she is a fraud, on top of the impossibility of her being perfectly preserved for eighty years. Other than this being a work of fiction, we have no reason to entertain any other possibility, and yet, John and Halbrech’s own behavior suggests there is something fishy about the world of this play. The “hospital,” we are told early on, is a converted gas station, staffed by deaf-mutes, but filled with surveillance equipment. It is unclear by what legal authority the woman is being held, which John waves away by saying the woman is free to leave at any time, but just hasn’t thought to ask. John, for all his expertise, also buys into Titanic mythology, like the legend of the dying men singing “Nearer My God to Thee.” Dornan plays him as pushy, fanatical, and not very bright, with a softer side emerging credibly, but only very late. Sullivan’s Dr. Halbrech seems arbitrary: she likes the woman, is more inclined to think she is insane than a liar, and stands up to John at some points, but still basically goes along with this scheme. Janet Magnuson also has a single scene as Miss Kittle, a Titanic survivor brought in to scrutinize the woman’s story.

Scotland Road, BoHo Theatre, Chicago
Skyler Schrempp and Jesse Dornan

Magnuson gives an intriguing performance, but her character’s fate, and the bizarre assertion the iceberg woman makes about her, are early warning signs that despite his claim to carefully plan the plot according to strict rules of logic before writing, Hatcher had a hard time making this play go the way he wanted it to. When Scotland Road finally arrived at its conclusion, I was more confused than ever. Written after the discovery of the wreck, but before James Cameron’s 1997 movie or the musical, recently performed by Griffin Theatre, Scotland Road focuses on the importance the ship has retained in popular memory. Not only did the disaster result in world-wide changes in safety regulations, but the way class, gender, corporate greed, and undue deference to authority affected the lives and deaths of those aboard became a short-hand for everything wrong with pre-WWI society. The name Scotland Road itself comes from the only passage on the ship which connected first and third class living quarters, and to how third class was sex-segregated, but the other two were not. There’s a lot of interesting information there for the play to convey, but it still struggles to make its premise into a story.

Somewhat Recommended

Jacob Davis
3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed May 17, 2015

For more information, see Scotland Road’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at the Heartland Studio, 7016 N Glenwood Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $20, with discounts for seniors and students. To order, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.BoHoTheatre.com. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm through June 14. Running time is ninety minutes with no intermission.