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A CurtainUp Review
The Other Place

Sharr White's The Other Place Moves to Broadway
. . .in spite of everything that's happened, when I add up the balance sheet of my life the numbers say I am happy. – Juliana
The Other Place
Laurie Metcalf
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The 2011 MCC world premiere of Sharr White's The Other Place created quite a buzz. The cleverly structured, clue-by-clue psycho-medical mystery was supported by an equally clever production. But for all its attention grabbing and holding segues between a successful biophysicist's lecture to promote a new neurological drug and flashbacks to a personal life threatening to send the above quoted numbers in the balance sheet of her life plummeting, the play itself didn't have the "legs" to support a Broadway move.

Since White created the play as a star vehicle and the actor taking on that star turn was Laurie Metcalf, it was her magnificently diverse performance that gave The Other Place the theatrical legs to carry it uptown,. That's why the audience at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre see Metcalf seated on stage even before the lights dim, with her very shapely legs to remind us of the theatrical metaphor accounting for the show's Broadway life.

Metcalf was what made The Other Place so compelling to watch that one can only rejoice that she is reprising her portrait of a smart, funny and feisty woman. Watching that sharp manner turn into more troubling behavior is as painful as it is fascinating to witness. If anything, she's even better and more heartbreaking.

The two other major cast members are now ably played by Daniel Stern and Zoe Perry (Stern, as Juliana's husband Ian and Perry as three different young women). But whatever the difference in their performances, it doesn't really matter. This is Metcalf's show.

The transfer includes Joe Mantello's deftly paced direction. And the mystery supporting stage elements, especially Eugene Lee's striking scenic design and Justin Townsend's lighting.

Given the presence of all these more watchable than ever elements, plus the fact that I could detect no noticeable alterations in the script, my original review still applies. It's therefore re-posted right after the current production notes. However, besides once again being enthralled by Metcalf's quick mood and behavior shifts, I was also more aware of the play's manipulatively tricky plot twists that seemed too obviously intended to make the viewer feel confused about what's real and what's delusional; for example, a scene late in the play in which Metcalf returns to her beloved "other" home in Cape Cod is still irresistibly heart wrenching. But the somewhat soap-operatic mawkishness was more obvious than ever.

There's also the business about a girl in a yellow bikini who Juliana spots among the doctors she's addressing. Her disturbing presence comes up often enough to make most viewers realize that she is a spectre from Juliana's past who will somehow, some way surface as a concrete presence. The way that happens is again a bit too banal, yet, like the scene in the Cape Cod place of the title, indisputably powerful.

On the other hand, Juliana's happening to specialize in dementia research now seems less prone to feel too convenient coincidence. Juliana's family history, her delusional reaction to the medical "episode" that sends her successful life into a tailspin somehow came together as a natural fit this time around.

Ms. Metcalf can certainly consider herself double lucky to have given up the chance to co-star in a new David Mamet play, The Anarchist in order to be part of the unknown Sharr White's Broadway debut. As it turns out, The Anarchist met with such poor reviews and ticket sales that it shuttered in just two weeks. The Other Place isn't likely to meet with this sort of universal, fatal thumbs down reaction. but neither is it likely to send enough Broadway's biggest ticket buying groups (tourists and other light, bright live entertainment) rushing to the MTC box office to fill seats for more than the scheduled run, It does however, give all the theater enthusiasts who missed seeing it downtown a chance to see tour de force acting in a play which, though not great, is interesting and thought provoking. For sure, it gives Metcalf a good shot at a Best Actress Tony.

Current Production Notes:
The Other Place by Shar White
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Laurie Metcalf (Juliana), Daniel Stern (Ian), Zoe Perry (The Woman, Dr. Cindy Teller, Laurel), John Schiappa (The Man, Dr. Richard Sillner, Bobby, a nurse)
Sets: Eugene Lee & Edward Pierce
Costumes: Daid Ainn
Lighting: Justin Townsend
Original Music and Sound: FitzPatton
Video & Projection design: William Cusick
Stage Manager: Kelly Beauliru
Running Time: 80 minutes without an intermission
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street 212-239-6200
From 12/`11/12; opening 1/10/13; closing 3/03/13.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at January 5th press matinee

If the name Sharr White doesn't ring a bell, don't let that keep you from buying a ticket to see his first New York world premiere, The Other Place, now at the Lortel Theater in the West Village. Though I can recommend it to all theater goers eager to see interesting and challenging new dramas, it's a tough play to review since its impact is strongest if you come to it cold, without too much information about the characters and content.

Even before the play begins as you're still settling into your seat, you see a woman sitting quietly in a chair. Her dressed-for-success suit suggests the every day real world of someone whose work takes her on many flights to conferences and meetings. But the abstract wall of window frames encircling the set is open enough for glimpses of a projected blue sky, and the hum of Fitz Patton's sound design suggest something mysterious, even ominous, about to unfold.

The woman on stage turns out to be th e central character, 52-year-old Juliana Smithton who's a biophysicist specializing in neurological medicine. She's the narrator of her own story, with the speech she's giving about a dementia drug she's developed and is now promoting. interspersed with details about her personal history.

Juliana's comment early on in the play that "in spite of everything that's happened when I add up the balance sheet of my life the numbers say I am happy." Yet that comment hints at a struggle to keep those numbers steady. Those numbers will indeed tumble precipitously during the course of 80 minutes, but to tell you more about how and why would diminish your experience of letting the emotional and medical trauma of Juliana's life as a mother, wife and scientist reveal themselves gradually.

What I can tell you is that the "other place" of the title is a weekend home on Cape Cod that has been in Juliana's family for generations. But that's just the obvious meaning. This beloved retreat's windswept shores are a metaphoric clue to what's going on in Juliana's mind as well this play's universal meaning – that we're all subject to finding ourselves suddenly drowning in a sea of anxiety, anger and confusion.

I can also tell you that The Other Place works on several levels — as a psychological thriller, a scientific mystery and a heart gripping family drama. There's no shortage of plot twists, some of which could be seen as too coincidental; that is, if Mr. White hadn't managed to move his troubled narrator through an often unrealistic first act into an all too real second act so that nothing is that much more coincidental than life often is.

Best of all The Other Place is a gift to the actress playing the central role. Laurie Metcalf proves herself to be more than worthy of that gift, so much so that she may well find herself a front runner for several best actress in an Off-Broadway play awards. She mines Juliana's dual persona — as a scientist with the brains and self-confidence to crash the glass ceiling of the clubby molecular science world and as a woman whose own scary medical crisis has kicked up painful and confused memories of a ten-year-old personal tragedy. She brings a knife-edged archness to the professional Juliana and incredible vulnerability to her suddenly needy self.

Juliana is the character around whom everything revolves and Metcalf's performance is an undisputable star turn, Dennis Boutsikaris and Aya Cash contribute forcefully to the drama's generally powerful heartbeat. Boutsikaris plays Juliana's husband Ian with an emotional depth that's never cloying. Aya Cash takes on not one but three roles: As a young doctor, as Juliana's daughter and, most touchingly, as a stranger whose own personal crisis somehow dovetails very movingly with Juliana's. John Schiappa, rounds out the cast of characters with two secondary roles.

As The Other Place is difficult to review without giving away too much, it was also a challenge for the director to stage the shifts from scenes inside the landscape of the narrator's mind and complete reality, without sacrificing the viewer's comprehension. Joe Mantello manages to expertly and sensitively direct it so that viewers, even though likely to frequently be a bit at sea, the fine acting and sure-handed staging keeps them fully engaged from the start, confident that everything will be clarified.

Mr. Mantello has wisely omitted an intermission between the first and second act, though there's a crackling interlude to establish the drastic shift in the story. Eugene Lee's set turns out to be remarkably versatile and is strongly supported by the rest of the design team.

If you're wondering about the play's medical accuracy, the playwright in a New York Times interview said that they were checked out by his father who is a biophysicist. As for the play's future, terrific as Laurie Metcalf is, it's a good bet that regional theater directors have access to capable actors so that they can bring this play to audiences in their area. em. For this reviewer, it's bracing to report on two excellent new plays Off-Broadway (see my review of Kin in less than two weeks. Add two new Broadway dramas — Good People and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo , and it adds up to a fertile season for straight plays.

The Other Place by Sharr White
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Dennis Boutsikaris (Ian), Aya Cash (The Woman, Dr. Cindy Teller, Laurel,), Laurie Metcalf (Juliana), John Schiappa (The Man, Dr. Richard Sillner, Bobby, a nurse)
Sets: Eugene Lee
Costumes: Diane Laffrey
Lighting: Justin Townsend
Sound: Fitz Patton
Video & Projection design: William Cusick
Production Stage Manager: B.D. White
Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
Running Time: 80 minutes without an intermission
MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre 121 Christopher Street212-279-4200
From 3/10/11; opening 3/28/11; closing 5/01/11.
Tickets: $65.00 to $95.00 Wednesdays at 7pm; Thurs to Sat 8pm; Saturdays 2pm and Sundays 3pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 3/25/11 press matinee
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