Brian Murray in Scattergood
(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
Brian Murray in Scattergood
(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
Looking at gender relations from a pre-women's-movement, male viewpoint might be an interesting premise for a play. Looking at gender relations through the prism of a centuries-old code of chivalry is a bit more fanciful -- "high-concept," in Hollywood parlance. That's the feel of Scattergood, which also proposes to address the viability of honor in the modern world when honor is defined as not getting busy with another man's lady.

Given that so many other forms of honor are violated daily, worrying about how Sir Lancelot might have approached dating on a contemporary college campus doesn't seem terribly compelling. But the play has its charms and there are probably a fair number of people who will take to MCC Theater's highly polished, world premiere production of this work by novice playwright Anto Howard.

The story's framework is tried and true: it concerns a charming pedagogue and his influence, often ambiguous, on the lives of his students. The cast -- led by Brian Murray as the eponymous Dr. Scattergood of Trinity College, Dublin -- is uniformly excellent. Doug Hughes's direction is crisp, and Hughes provides ample space for Murray's larger-than-life persona. Howard's gift for dialogue is admirable, especially the credibly lived-in erudition through which the good Doctor entertains, educates, and sometimes enlightens.

As pure entertainment, Scattergood almost succeeds; but we're not talking real profundity here, just dulce et decorum. Still, despite the clichés of the play and the production, there is fun to be had. In the first scene, we meet the entire cast: The professor emerges and addresses the audience as a classroom, which contains Brendan (T.R. Knight), a Dublin lad, and Miss Regan (Tari Signor), an American lass. Playing an English academic in Dublin whose obsession with the code of chivalry is charming if strange, Murray chews the scenery, the lights, the rigging, and most of the city block on which the theater is located, displaying total facility with the material. The professor's dedication to the arcane literature from which he quotes liberally is blended with student-friendly (and audience-friendly!) pop culture references to produce the kind of dream lectures we see on movie and TV screens more often than in classrooms.

T.R. Knight and Brian Murray in Scattergood
(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
T.R. Knight and Brian Murray in Scattergood
(Photo: Dixie Sheridan)
However, as mutual interest blooms between Brendan and the American object of his affections, we start to feel a bit uneasy. This chivalry business is sexist, as any young American woman would point out. While Dr. Scattergood -- sometimes called "Dr. Love" by the student body, not entirely sarcastically -- tries to encourage Brendan to follow the cavalier's code which the older man professes, we start to ask ourselves: "What year is this?" Despite the contemporary setting, Brendan and Scattergood are seriously discussing honor as a pact between men in which women are objectified -- even someone as smart and interesting as Miss Regan.

Howard mainly keeps a terrific character like Regan offstage except for occasional letters and a final showdown, while the humanities prodigy Brendan recites from memory long passages of moldy romanticism to his somewhat creepy mentor. That much of this is enjoyable is testimony to the play's accessibility and wit, and to Hughes's fine direction of the terrific cast. Hugh Landwehr's scenic design is spot-on, as well; kudos to MCC Theater for giving a first-rate staging of a script developed in its own playwriting lab. Still, one wonders if Howard -- a Trinity College scholar himself -- realizes how much his play mirrors the flaws of its male characters, shoving women aside while the boys dither mellifluously around their inability to deal genuinely with girls.