LAURIE METCALF BELONGS IN THE OTHER PLACE
In The Other Place, Sharr White’s riveting and affective play, Laurie Metcalf delivers a poignant and masterfully crafted performance as Juliana, a neurologist and holder of a billion-dollar patent, whose life suddenly starts crumbing before her eyes. The show begins with her – confident, sophisticated, impregnable – lecturing to a convention hall full of doctors. By the end she is in a very different place, and the transformation Ms. Metcalf achieves is remarkable.
Constructed much like a smart, psychological thriller, and staying, for the most part, one step ahead of the audience, Mr. White’s drama explores, with lovely sincerity, the crushing effects of unbearable guilt and sorrow; one of the questions the play seems to be asking is: Why, when we hurt someone we care about and feel horrible as a result, do we continue to hurt them?
The script continually jumps from one time and place to another and Joe Mantello directs the action with expert dexterity and precision, building a pace that is fast but never rushed. His scene transitions are seamless, almost as though the events depicted are in one big glass ball, with everything happening nearly simultaneously, which subtly echoes the protagonist’s state, both mental and spiritual. This is an apt directorial choice as Juliana’s condition is the play’s central focus. Mr. Mantello likewise makes excellent use of Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce’s wonderfully abstract and versatile set, Justin Townsend’s terrifically evocative lighting, Fitz Patton’s original music and sound, and William Cusick’s video projections, using them to create a world at once literal and expressionistic. These stage-craft elements serve not only to underscore the psychological and spiritual condition of Ms. Metcalf’s character but also to bring us emotionally into her world.
A wonderfully sympathetic Daniel Stern turns in a touching performance as Ian, a topnotch physician who finds himself helpless in dealing with Juliana’s predicament (his relationship to her is intentionally ambiguous for much of the play, we don’t know if they are married, divorced or separated). Zoe Perry, credited as The Woman, actually plays three or four different characters (depending how you look at it), and John Schiappa rounds out the cast in several parts as the Man.
The play’s superb structure and dialogue, as well as its other outstanding elements, make for a rich and compelling spectacle. We don’t know the truth behind what is going on, which in itself draws us in; there is a sense that anything could happen. But at a certain point we begin to realize what that truth is; the more of it we see the more literal and narrow The Other Place becomes. There is at least one dramatic possibility that is sort-of introduced but left unexplored, as well as some themes that are touched upon but never fully dissected (such as mother-daughter jealousy, infidelity, how one can simultaneously love and hate another, and what makes a person who they are). But to Mr. White’s credit, even with this lack of subtext in the latter part of the play, the subject he is finally interested in is rendered virtuosically, with much sympathy and love; I had tears in my eyes at the end. I just would have liked to have taken home from The Other Place something cerebral in addition to emotional.
photos by Joan Marcus
The Other Place
Manhattan Theater Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in New York City
scheduled to end on February 24, 2013
for tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/