The first half of the play is from the vantage point of Juliana and her perception of what is happening around her, and ends with a starkly different reality. To do this, the play jumps around in time and location from a resort in the Virgin Islands, to Juliana’s doctor’s office, to her home, with minimal, if any, scenic change, but rather via lighting and projections. This might prove cluttered and confusing when written by another playwright, but Mr. White has crafted a play that weaves a journey from a state of complete ignorance to one of utter compassion and sadness. Thanks to director Joel Mantello the pace of this play is fast moving and never predictable.
The Other Place premiered at Manhattan Class Company in March of 2011 and recently opened on Broadway courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club at its Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a successful researcher, married to a top-notch oncologist (Daniel Stern). She holds a patent on a dementia drug and is engaged in promoting the drug. It takes a bit of time to understand precisely what is happening to Julia. We watch as she goes from successful research scientist to a victim of the very thing her research has striven to eradicate.
At one point while giving a speech to a room full of doctors, she sees a young woman in a yellow bikini and begins to publically ridicule and poke fun at her, all the while wondering at her own malevolent behavior. This striking out at others immediately clued me in to what was going on. As someone who has dealt intimately with a family member with dementia, I immediately recognized the inappropriate rage that Juliana exhibited. We see other examples of this throughout play.
As Juliana, Metcalf gives a detailed and aggressive performance that renders her character’s painful struggle bare during a brief, but intense 70 minutes. It should also be pointed out that during these 70 minutes, she never leaves the stage. As her husband, Daniel Stern beautifully represents all families dealing with this evil and ruinous disease. You see his love and encouragement, and you also see his frustration and near exhaustion.
Zoey Perry and John Schiappa play multiple roles, billed as “The Woman” and “The Man,” respectively. Ms. Perry plays Juliana’s doctor, her daughter, and a stranger who purchases the “other place.” Ms. Perry gives a compassionate performance in this last role. She and Ms. Metcalf have a marvelous scene at the end of the play that will bring you to tears. Mr. Schiappa has various minor roles and does a fine job.
Mr. White and Mr. Mantello have had help in telling their tale. The scenic design of Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce, the lighting design of Justin Townsend, the projections of William Cusick, and the sound and music of Fitz Patton all serve this piece tremendously. The back wall of the set is made of window frames, multiples of windows representing the chaotic, mixed up memories of “the other place.”
The pace at which this play doles out the details is perfect. The story is emotionally and painfully revealed through the generosity of Ms. Metcalf and Mr. Stern’s powerhouse performances. I’m only sorry that Manhattan Theatre Club can’t lead this into a commercial run (at least there has been no mention made as of this writing.) It is presently scheduled to run through February 2, 2013. I would encourage you to not miss this emotionally rich experience.