Presented by MCC Theater, casting by Bernard Telsey Casting, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42 St., NYC, Feb. 26-March 22.
At least in dramatic literature, teachers seem to come in two varieties: benevolent or malevolent. In "Scattergood," which MCC Theater is giving its world premiere at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, the eponymous professor is a bit of both: sympathetic Mr. Chips and frustrated Miss Brodie. Honor at all costs is this manipulative pedagogue's maxim in a work that gains in momentum.
Anto Howard's two-act drama concerns Professor Scattergood, the aptly named teacher of medieval literature at Dublin's Trinity College. We see two of his students: the attractive, forthright Miss Regan, and the stuttering, shy, brilliant Brendan Hillard.
Hillard has a crush on Miss Regan, and Scattergood seems perfectly willing to help the student's cause—but with a caveat. Hillard must at all times remember the chivalric code of honor by which the prof himself professes to live: "Do right, fear nothing." This leads to confusions and deceptions, if not outright lies, which come to a stunning, revelatory, though not unexpected final scene of regret.
The first half is rather repetitious and slight. Howard spins his wheels reiterating the rules of chivalric courtship. But, thanks to Doug Hughes' sure and sensitive directorial hand, the evening suggests depths that the playwright himself has not fully explored.
Brian Murray has a delicious time as Scattergood, using his considerable charm and bluster to cover up the character's hurts. His swooping readings are a delight. As Miss Regan, Tari Signor leavens skepticism with empathy.
As Hillard, T.R. Knight is both pitiable and desperate. Catching the character's conflict between spirit and flesh, Knight goes from tentative to desperate to excitable to accepting in a meticulously layered performance.
Set designer Hugh Landwehr's lived-in professor's study is warmly lit by Clifton Taylor. Linda Fisher's costumes suggest academic modesty, while David Van Tieghem's sound design is ideal.