"Scattergood," about an unapologetic Dublin professor known around campus as "Dr. Love," features a masterful performance by veteran actor Brian Murray.
By DIANE SNYDER
When Brian Murray saunters down the aisle of the Beckett Theatre at the start of "Scattergood," it's the theatrical equivalent of watching a Roger Clemens in his prime take the pitching mound. You're about to see a master of his game tease, seduce and finesse an audience with a considerable bag of theatrical tricks which, though familiar, are just about always satisfying.
As James Scattergood, a 60-year-old British bachelor and medieval literature professor in Dublin, Murray gets to be hammy and heartfelt, portraying his character's outward bravado as adroitly as he does the inner anguish that ultimately emerges. His performance, and that of T.R. Knight as his brilliant but terminally shy student, Brendan, breathes life into Irish playwright Anto Howard's sketchy plot and too-familiar characters in this world premiere production.
|Written by: Anto Howard.|
Directed by: Doug Hughes.
Cast: Brian Murray, T.R. Knight, Tari Signor.
410 West 42nd St.
Previews start: Feb. 14, 2003
Feb. 26 - March 22, 2003
In an amusing opening, Scattergood is lecturing his students on whether honor, "like God in Paris cafes," is dead. He uses Brendan and Alison Regan (Tari Signor), a vibrant, redheaded American student, to play Kiefer Sutherland and a babe with whom he allegedly dishonored Julia Roberts. (Remember those days? The play is set in 1991.)
Almost immediately afterward too quickly for believability's sake, actually Brendan is in Scattergood's office asking about the "honorable" way to woo Alison, who has been dating someone for a few years. To Scattergood this seems to involve subverting your true feelings, and he is known as "Dr. Love" throughout the university for doing just that. He regales Brendan with a story of how he rejected the advances of a colleague's betrothed 34 years ago because, even though he loved her, it was the "honorable" thing to do.
Their one-on-one lessons in Scattergood's office (Hugh Landwehr's set has the same dilapidated stateliness as its protagonist) take up most of the play's two hours and create a rather lengthy lull between a clever beginning and unexpectedly compelling finale. The shift to Brendan's courtship of Alison zaps the play of its momentum, since the younger characters just aren't as compelling as Scattergood.
Even in the hands of talented director Doug Hughes, Brendan and Scattergood's eloquent discourses on love and longing don't always ignite. Howard puts forth his thesis about the merits of honor vs. desire at the beginning and keeps restating it. Though Murray delivers several bits of witty repartee "Women are like pamphlets: easy to read" and "Love once conceived will kill and struggle to be born" Alison sums it up best when she arrives for the denouement and cries, "Would you stop speaking like a fucking Jane Austen novel?"
It's here that "Scattergood" comes back to its title character. As the honor he's been feigning in order to disguise his failure at love is revealed, the play reaches a memorably poignant conclusion a moment that comes too late for both protagonist and audience.
|MARCH 4, 2003|
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