To the list of unpalatable things Scottish – — haggis, bagpipes, tartan skirts — may be added “A Dram of Drummhicit,” Arthur Kopit and Anton Dudley’s yarn about pixilated villagers and the visiting Americans alternately gulled and beguiled by them. The derivative plot is tougher to swallow than the titular, lethal single-malt produced on the Southern Hebrides island of Muckle Skelly, and the play’s overstated La Jolla world premiere lacks the chaser of lightness which could make the whimsy go down easy.
Like the town of “Brigadoon,” the locale is home to assorted eccentrics with names like Old Willy and Rev. Hagglehorne, a burg whose comfortable relationship with Celtic paganism is catnip to jaded American urbanites. And as in “Local Hero,” a threat to Utopia is posed by rapacious capitalists, personalized here by a Donald Trump-ish Robert Bruce (Murphy Guyer), whose plans to build condos and a golf course include an 18th hole right on the faeries’ legendary home.
This sort of stuff has got to be played with a feather touch or it’s nothing, which is why the production’s pervasive broadness and shouting are such a puzzling choice by helmer Christopher Ashley. The obnoxious locals keep forcing themselves on the audience, rather than allowing us to be irresistibly drawn to them. The usually reliable Alan Mandell waves trembling hands in an artificial parody of senility, while Kathryn Meisle brings a forced scoutmistress air to a visiting English anthropologist.
Then again, we’re supposed to identify with Charles Pearse (Lucas Hall), the stuffed shirt nice-guy minion of the great man, there to do his dirty work but eventually (of course) to be co-opted by the town’s spell, not to mention that of comely lassie Fiona (Polly Lee).
But in a seriously misconceived performance, Hall brings white hot anger and contempt to the negotiations, as if his own cash were at stake in the development scheme. And he’s no more engaging in act two, when the smell of the heather on yon hill transforms him into a simp speaking in an operetta tenor.
It’s hard to figure the intended demographic of this elaborate but remote production, with its labored scenic and special effects. The magical ground rules and enchantment backstory are too convoluted for adults to wrap themselves in. (Poor Joseph Culliton gets the worst of it, with nothing to do until he’s asked to carry act two’s exhausting exposition burden.) Conversely, all the dropped f-bombs and a flash of nudity make it unacceptable for kids.
Put it this way. Any play asking us not just to believe but to embrace a father’s sitting at the foot of the bed to enjoy his daughter’s deflowering demands a delicacy of approach not to be found among the banks and braes of Muckle Skerry.