Sunday, April 24, 2011

Off Broadway: The Other Place

Originally scheduled to run only through April 24th at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, The Other Place by Sharr White met with enough positive audience response that its run has been extended to May 1st. Be glad that it was since otherwise you might not have had a chance to see this terrific production. As it is, you’ve only got a few days left until it closes, so get a move on and buy your tickets now.

Juliana Smithton (Laurie Metcalf), a scientist and pharmacological shill who originally was responsible for developing an important new drug for the treatment of dementia and who now is engaged in marketing the drug to the medical profession, ironically finds herself in a position in which such a drug might (or might not) be just what she needs herself. While touting the drug at a medical convention in the Virgin Islands, she is startled to spot a woman in a yellow bikini seated among the business-suited doctors in her audience, a sight which so non-plusses her as to cause her to experience an “episode” or “thingee,” resulting in her loss of speech and mental coherence and leading her to conclude that she is suffering from brain cancer.

But who is the woman in the yellow bikini and why is she there – if she is even there at all? And how does her presence relate to the disappearance of Juliana’s daughter Laurel (Aya Cash) nearly a decade ago and the telephone contacts Juliana recently has been having with Laurel and her husband (John Schiappa), who was at one time Juliana’s research assistant? Moreover, why does Juliana’s husband, Ian (Dennis Boutsikaris), a highly regarded oncologist in his own right, deny that Juliana is suffering from brain cancer when she knows full well that she is? And does he really love her, as he insists, or is he in the process of divorcing her because he is in the midst of an affair with the attractive female “colleague” he sends Juliana to see (the colleague is also played by Aya Cash).

The play is a splendidly complex work, part psychological thriller and part a depiction of the neurological breakdown of an unsuspecting and otherwise strong and competent woman. And as partial truths emerge, culminating in Juliana’s return to “the other place” – a cottage she and Ian once owned on Cape Cod, we come to understand just what it all means.

Laurie Metcalf really steals the show in her star turn as Juliana, a juicy role that gives her an opportunity to change her persona, chameleon-like, from moment to moment. She is sensitive and feeling in one scene, angry, jealous and paranoid in another, bitter, sarcastic and sardonic in yet a third; her personality and mood changes are dramatically effective and the stuff of which great theatre is made. It is worth seeing the play for her performance alone.

Not that the other actors aren’t fully competent themselves. True, John Schiappa doesn’t have much opportunity to do a lot with the minimal role he’s been given as Laurel’s husband and Juliana’s former research assistant but Dennis Boutsikaris is excellent in the much bigger role of Ian, Juliana’s distraught husband, and milks it for all it’s worth. And Aya Cash, who plays three different roles – Juliana’s missing daughter, Laurel; Ian’s attractive medical colleague who examines Juliana; and the woman currently resident in the cottage that Juliana and Ian used to own – does a fine job in all three capacities.

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