Fantasy is a genre that tends to make me twitchy, though in expert hands it can conjure up a bogus credibility: Surely we don’t object to the gods disporting themselves in Greek drama. And indeed, it is magisterially managed in Jeffrey Hatcher’s Scotland Road, barring a few minor discrepancies that even so free an art form had best avoid. The story suggested itself to Hatcher by a tabloid headline about a woman survivor of the Titanic (yes, the Titanic again, but with quite a difference) found by Scandinavian fishermen clinging to an iceberg. The time, if you please, is now.
The woman, young and attractive, has been transported to what seems to be a room in a private sanatorium at the expense of John, who claims to be the grandson of John Jacob Astor, a victim of the Titanic. He certainly knows every last detail about the ship and its fate, and is driven to unmask the woman as a fraud: He has also engaged the services of a female clinician, Halbrech. The alleged survivor is mute but for one word, “Titanic.” It is not clear whether she understands any of the numerous languages in which she is addressed.
Obviously, no one could have survived in that way; equally obviously, no Titanic survivor could be that young. Yet the woman’s clothes test as genuine artifacts of that period, and those fishermen did discover her under credibility-inspiring circumstances. She’s no common fraud.
In due time, a certified Titanic survivor, Frances Kittle, is brought in to examine the nameless woman, but with quite unexpected results. Meanwhile, John puts the woman through grueling grillings, he and Halbrech clash repeatedly, and … but I mustn’t give away the daunting surprises. I can say, though, that there is plenty of suspense as well as fun, that Scotland Road is named after the Titanic’s principal passageway, and that it is a mystery in more ways than one. Yet in the end, after assorted anguliform twists and turns, things fall – miraculously – into place.
The production has been expertly directed by Melìa Bensussen. Take only the beginning: A series of slide projections makes an iceberg by jump cuts come closer and terrifyingly closer until it crashes on us, enormous. David Van Tieghem’s fiendishly scary sound effects cease, and the lights go up on a forbiddingly antiseptic white room of which we see two intersecting walls with an ominous door in each; near the middle of the otherwise empty set, a lone rocking chair. Designed by James Noone, the scene is as desolate as an iceberg, which Dan Kotlowitz’s flat white lighting brings glaringly home. If there were such a thing as a cage made of ice, this would be it. The perfect setting for John’s questioning: shrewd, bitingly sardonic, relentless. What exactly is he after?
The actors, strategically positioned and moved about by the director, couldn’t be better. Daniel Gerroll’s John is dapper, acidly witty, sophisticatedly sinister. The woman, as Katy Selverstone embodies her with a fine blend of fragility and force, is remote yet not wholly detached, as likely to be genuinely incomprehending as craftily imperturbable. Janet Zarish brings Halbrech’s conflicting motives to intelligent life, and Scotty Bloch is feistily pungent as Miss Kittle. They and the play hold you in a grip that could give lessons to a vise.