BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
“The Other Place” regards a forceful woman undermined by a dread disease in the prime of her middle-aged life. Even as her world grows darker, questionable or hazy circumstances in it paradoxically become clearer to the audience during the swift course of Sharr White’s poignant new drama.
Opening on Monday at the Lucille Lortel Theater, this world premiere production by MCC Theater is led by Laurie Metcalf’s heartbreaking performance.
Metcalf portrays Juliana, a research scientist who recalls the time she was speaking at a medical conference and was first struck by a minor seizure.
Juliana scarcely begins telling us about the episode when she is seen tetchily talking with a specialist. Juliana resumes her story for us only to become involved in an argument with her husband Ian. Again she returns to her tale but again the action quickly reverts to the specialist’s office.
As this motif of interruptions continues, we learn that Juliana is divorcing Ian for adultery even as she tries to reestablish ties with her long-estranged daughter Laurel, now married with twin children. As the 90-minute play progresses, however, we come to suspect that Ian really is a faithful spouse and there’s something peculiar about the connection with Laurel.
Gradually we realize – about the same time that Ian does — that Juliana has been suffering from subtly growing dementia, which ironically is the malady that has been her specialty as a scientist. So some of what we thought was valid information turns out to be Juliana’s delusions. A flashback later reveals the truth regarding Laurel and leads to a beautifully sensitive scene of reconciliation at Juliana’s seashore home known as “The Other Place” – a term that assumes a more sinister meaning in the play’s context.
The drama’s intricate story and intercrossing structure are tricky, but White handles the challenge very well, while director Joe Mantello keenly and imaginatively orchestrates a highly supportive production.
Eugene Lee’s setting of overlapping picture and window frames suggests Juliana’s blurring of stories and blank moments. The detailed lighting by Justin Townsend and the video projections by William Cusick enhance the work significantly, as does Fitz Patton’s vivid sound design.
Juliana is a smart but prickly woman whose feisty behavior becomes more aggressive as her mind frays and her frustration with this worsening condition grows. Metcalf’s portrait of a very together woman who gradually and helplessly falls apart is wrenching to witness. Dennis Boutsikaris offers a sturdy yet tender presence as Ian, who suffers no little bit himself from his wife’s ailment. Aya Cash clearly depicts several people in Juliana’s life, including Laurel. John Schiappa has little to do but does it well.
The grim nature of White’s play is formidable indeed but the artistry with which he relates this story – how the dramatic structure itself reflects the protagonist’s deceptive state of mind – is impressive.
“The Other Place” continues through April 24 at the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.mcctheater.org.