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HAUNTING TITANIC MYSTERY FLOATS BEAUTIFULLY, BUOYED BY TAUT WRITING AND ENGAGING STARS

SHARE HAUNTING TITANIC MYSTERY FLOATS BEAUTIFULLY, BUOYED BY TAUT WRITING AND ENGAGING STARS

Probably no shipwreck in history has more myths and mystery attached to it than the doomed maiden voyage of the Titanic.

Playwright Jeffrey Hacker, in this tightly written 1992 drama, adds a baffling new twist to the legend.The setting for "Scotland Road" - no, it's not "Scotland Yard" - is a tiny, makeshift investigation center in a remote part of Maine. The time is the present, but the storyline reverberates back more than 80 years.

If you're weary of being awed by stages packed with masses of actors and high-powered technical gimmicks, "Scotland Road," with a cast of only four and just one simple set, is a pleasant experience, indeed.

Dr. Halbrech (Anita Booher), who is trained to work with people unable to communicate, and John Astor (Jeffrey Owen), a young Titanic trivia and history expert, have teamed up - reluctantly - to unlock the mysteries lurking somewhere in the mind of a strikingly beautiful young woman.

"The Woman," nameless and mute, is played by Lisa Randazzo, a talented newcomer (and very welcome addition) to the Salt Lake theater scene. Her character has been plucked from an iceberg off the coast of Iceland, where she was discovered by Norwegian fishermen. Attired in a 1900s period dress and shawl, she has flawless skin and an almost ethereal, youthful beauty. No coat . . . perfectly healthy . . . and uttering only one word before falling into a silent state: "Titanic."

Naturally the tabloid press has wasted no time in jumping right onto the story (Astor first read about it on a rack at a 7-Eleven store in South Dakota).

Hoping to keep the media at bay, Astor, Halbrech and The Woman are holed up for one week in an effort to determine whether the girl really is an incredibly well-preserved Titanic survivor.

There are elements of "Anastasia" and the romantic mystique of "Somewhere in Time" in this taut, intriguing little drama. Is the young woman really what the world has been led to believe she is - a genuine survivor of the Titanic disaster 80 years earlier? Or maybe she's just an exceptional con artist.

But con artists can be tripped up. Astor, who claims to be the great grandson of one of the Titanic's wealthy victims, and Halbrech devise some clever tests.

One is to replicate the meal served on board the night before the ship sank. Maybe she'll lose her cool and flinch. But maybe not. She is one tough cookie and doesn't crack easily.

The small cast does a fine job with Hacker's well-written script.

Both Booher (last seen in SLAC's "Angels in America") and Owen are well cast as the investigator and therapist.

Debora Threedy, another of the area's best actresses, shines in a fairly brief but pivotal role as Miss Kittle - an aged, reclusive, wheelchair-bound Titanic survivor found to be living just a few miles away. Can she break through The Woman's stubborn facade?

Randazzo gives a stunning performance as the central character. She says more with a furtive glance or a slight gesture than several sentences of dialogue. Her performance alone makes "Scotland Road" worthwhile.

"You are not what you seem," is one line of dialogue in the second act. It could refer to any of the play's four mysteriously entangled lives. There are more twists and turns here than the labyrinth of hallways and passages in the underbelly of the Titanic itself.

Note: TWW's Upstage Center venue is slowly evolving. Some of the noise problems associated with abutting a Trolley Square comedy club have been solved, at least partially, with the installation of sound-proofing insulation. But there were moments on Thursday night when the raucous laughter next door filtered through.

TWW is also working on its ongoing "under 21 not allowed" problem.

- Sensitivity rating: Nothing offensive. Just keep in mind that, due to the location of the Upstage Center - one of four performance spaces in the Wooden Dog - admission is limited to those 21 years of age or over. Not because of material in the play itself, but because the Wooden Dog is basically a sports bar.