Stripped to its essentials, Galatea is an intriguing courtroom drama, written and directed by Theatre in the Park executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III. This riveting play chronicles one man’s obsession past the point of reason, past the point where his discoveries put him in greater and greater dange r with finding out the truth about one of modern history’s greatest mysteries: What exactly happened to Russian Tsar Nicholas II; his wife Alexandra; his son Alexis; his daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia; and their last remaining servants on the night of July 16-17, 1918 in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, Siberia? Were they all murdered en masse that night in a 14×17-foot basement room by a Cheka (Soviet Secret Police) firing squad in the “House of Special Purpose,” or were there one or more survivors, with the Tsar’s youngest daughter Grand Duchess Anastasia being the most frequently mentioned possibility in that regard?

During the Russian civil war in which a fiercely anti-Bolshevik White Army slugged it out with V.I. Lenin’s Red Army, a White Army investigator named Nicholas Sokolov (played at TIP by Eric Carl) arrived at Yekaterinburg to investigate the disappearance and presumed murder of the Russian royal family. The historical Sokolov was a relentless interrogator, and he made a detailed report to the White Army’s commander, Admiral Alexander Kolchak (Jason Weeks).

The Nicholas Sokolov of Galatea is a monomaniac of another stripe. He is a romantic who falls in love with the ghostly image of Anastasia and, using the Ipatiev House as his courtroom, ruthlessly examines a series of friendly and decidedly unfriendly witnesses concerning what happened before, during, and after the fateful night of July 16-17, 1918. In order of appearance, these witnesses include Natalya Kolya (Janis K. Coville), the crusty old babuska of the Ipatiev House; her mute young helper Anya (Jayd Harrison); pompous and supremely self-satisfied Romanov loyalist Boris Soloviev (Chris Brown); hapless, hand-wringing captured Red Army soldier Anatoly Yakimov (Thomas Porter), a young former guard at the Ipatiev House; and Karl Strovka (Bob Martin), who defiantly claims to have been a member of the Cheka firing squad. The only other character is Sokolov’s friend and fellow White Army officer Dmitri Volkov (James Miller), who sets up the incendiary confrontation between Sokolov and Strovka.

Eric Carl is one of the Triangle’s finest actors, and his passionate performance as Sokolov adds anther laurel to his acting crown. Jason Weeks is appropriately odious as the treacherous Admiral Kolchak; Chris Brown is a weasel’s weasel as the dissembling Boris Soloviev; Thomas Porter captures the pathos of Anatoly Yakimov, a prisoner of war deeply sorry for the minor role that he played in the Romanovs’ imprisonment and murder; and Bob Martin is a real pistol as the unrepentant Karl Strovka.

Janis Coville provides a gritty portrayal of Natalya Kolya, Jayd Harrison gives a poignant performance as Anya, and James Miller cuts a fine figure as Dmitri Volkov.

Dramatist/director David Wood, who premiered Galatea at TIP in the fall of 1987, has done a masterful job with this new and improved version of his already powerful drama. Wood sets a brisk pace, and gets the best from each and every member of his talented cast.

The marvelous multilevel wooden set by scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson and the impressive array of period costumes by his wife, costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson, add authenticity to the proceedings. Even though the mystery of what really happened to Anastasia was solved conclusively by forensic scientists back in 1998, Galatea posits a fascinating alternative scenario that will keep TIP audiences sitting on the edge of their seats as Sokolov boldly strips away layer after layer of lies from the cover-up of what really happened to the Romanovs.

Theatre in the Park presents Galatea Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 16-18, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 2 p.m. on the mainstage of the Ira David Wood Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $18 ($12 students and seniors 55+). 919/831-6058. Note 1: The Feb. 16th performance will be audio described. Note 2: Following the Feb. 17th performance, there will be a post-show discussion led by Dr. Sharon Kowalsky, visiting lecturer from Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel. Theatre in the Park: Ipatiev House (Romanov Memorial): [inactive 11/07].