Most of you know, and perhaps have met, our amazing Ibsen adapter Jeffrey Hatcher. Jeffrey has created the last six editions of our Ibsen productions and will again this year with The League of Youth. What you may not know about Jeffrey is that he is an accomplished author of his own plays and screenplays. Jeffrey’s most notable film work includes Casanova, Stage Beauty and last year’s Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen. As a playwright, he has written more than 25 plays including Turn of the Screw which appeared on the Commonweal stage in 2010.
Jeffrey is the author of the play Scotland Road which our company of apprentice artists have chosen as their capstone project and are currently in rehearsal for. Jeffrey was kind enough to take the time to sit down recently and respond to some questions about his play Scotland Road and his approach as a writer.
Give us a premise and then your inspiration for Scotland Road.
Scotland Road is about a woman who claims to be a survivor of the Titanic, found on an iceberg over eighty years after the ship’s sinking. A man isolates the woman in an attempt to disprove her story and discover her reasons for claiming to be a survivor of the disaster. The inspiration was a World Weekly Newspaper headline that I saw at a gas station in the South Dakota Badlands. The headline read: “Titanic Survivor Found on Iceberg. And her dress is still wet!”
You have written several adaptations of the works of Henrik Ibsen for the Commonweal. How does the approach to writing an original piece differ from that of an adaptation?
An adaptation is more of a technical exercise, requiring skills of editing, combining characters and events, searching for appropriate dialogue to represent the original. An adaptation is a patient on a table. An original work is more akin to conception. Instead of a table you have a blank page and that’s a lot more frightening.
Have you seen a production of Scotland Road performed in the past and, if so, what was your reaction?
I’ve seen at least two dozen or more productions of Scotland Road since it premiered in 1993. I’ve seen good ones, I’ve seen bad ones, slow moving, fast paced. It requires a lot from the actors, the directors, the design team. There are a lot of tricks and pitfalls to producing it. But if things line up the right way, the show tends to leave the audience with a nice mystery to think and talk about.
As the author of the screenplay for the acclaimed motion picture Mr. Holmes, why are we so fascinated and attracted to stories of suspense and mystery?
Hamlet is a mystery, Oedipus is a mystery. Mysteries are filled with questions that have to be answered. Cliffhangers create suspense, and suspense provides adrenaline, which feeds us, keeps us going. We go to mysteries to feel that sensation, and the anxiety it produces craves satisfaction, an answer to the mystery, an ending. Arousal and climax all in the course of an evening’s entertainment.
Not to spoil anything within the play, but the main subject matter happens to be the RMS Titanic. Can you explain the mania, in all of its forms, behind the ship and her sinking?
Well not in all of its forms. Simply put, the story of the Titanic is a perfect story combining romance, adventure, irony, fate, heroism, cowardice and themes to do with technology, social class, the end of one era and the beginning of another in a very specific sense. I do think a lot of people wonder what they would have done would they have been aboard the ship that night. Would any one of us survive the test. Would that mean going down with the ship? Would it mean sacrificing ourself for others.
As a playwright, are you trying to “do” anything to your audience? Are there certain takeaways that you purposefully attempt to leave them with?
I’m trying to entertain them, tease them, direct and misdirect them, then give them an answer to the mystery, but one that is ambiguous enough so that the play has an effect and an after life beyond the final curtain.
On a final note, one review of Scotland Road called the climax “blatantly and pleasingly melodramatic.” Does that ring true for you and was that intended?
Obviously I was going for a theatrical and dramatic effect. I’m not sure I’d call it melodrama, strictly defined, but I’m satisfied if the audience is satisfied.