Updated: Jun 20, 2020
Chance Theater proudly presents the 5th show of their 20th Anniversary Season with the Orange County premiere of Sharr White’s psychological drama, “The Other Place.” Directed by the acclaimed Matthew McCray (Founding Artistic Director of Son of Semele Ensemble), and starring Jacqueline Wright, it is a mildly amusing, yet disturbingly brisk recount of an intense, astonishing journey into the consciousness of a woman who begins to question her own lucidity. “The Other Place” runs through October 21st at the Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center and is featured inside the more intimate Fyda-Mar Stage.
This haunting, emotionally-draining nail-biter had its Broadway premiere at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in 2013 and closed after 34 previews and 61 performances. The cast originally starred Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne;” “Brighton Beach Memoirs”) and Daniel Stern (“Home Alone;” “The Wonder Years”), and was directed by Joe Mantello (“Wicked;” “Assassins”). Metcalf won an Obie Award for her role, and was nominated for the 2013 Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
In Chance Theater’s production, Jacqueline Wright (“Blueberry Toast” Ovation Award Nominee) is composed of what physicists call “exotic matter.” Good luck keeping track of her exact mass, her precise properties - she’s passing between dimensions right before our eyes, and daring us to keep up.
Ms. Wright exists in a state of physical and mental flux that keeps us guessing while the play vibrates, safely outside the bandwidth of melodrama. She plays Juliana, a top-tier neurological researcher-turned-drug-company shill, and we meet her in mid-lecture, which we instantly sense is her natural state.
Juliana is actually lecturing us about a lecture for a new dementia drug she delivered at a resort hotel in St. Thomas, and about what happened next. But “next,” we soon learn, is a slippery concept in this play. Juliana, hyper-conscious of the default-male dominated sexism of her field, boldly slams these drug-launch events out loud as being a boys club consortium, unless you’re there as a woman for some sort of illicit service. Suddenly spying an interloper in the audience, a “buoyant” girl in a yellow string bikini who surreally takes a seat in the convention hall amidst the pack of mostly male physicians, she becomes offended at multiple levels and takes aim at the scantily clad stranger, but almost instantly experiences a terrible sense of regret.
Interspersed with this titillating melodrama, splinters of other scenes intrude: Juliana’s having a tart little sparring match with her estranged husband, Ian (Ron Hastings), who may or may not be divorcing her, about her recent “episode” in St. Thomas along with his alleged infidelity. Soon, Juliana’s on the phone with her son-in-law, a former colleague that she doesn't like very much, and her daughter, Lauren, who won’t even come to the phone. Juliana’s next seeing a neurologist (a superb Philip David Black), whom she also badgers and bullies. She firmly believes that she has developed a brain tumor because her mother and other relatives all died of brain tumors at an early age.
Foremost, the play is simply Juliana, a woman who’s spent a lifetime making her bioanalytical case before skeptical, sometimes condescending tribunal conferences, and always winning the day. Most all of these delusions are vivid inventions of Juliana’s brilliant, actively disintegrating mind. But even compromised, she’s a formidable opponent, with a will strong enough to impose even a fragmented and unreliable reality on everyone around her.
Argumentative, and in a state of perpetual confusion, she appears increasingly defensive that it is she who is normal, and not the world. Through it all, she constantly refers to "the other place," a cottage on Cape Cod that the family once owned, and a place where Juliana feels most comfortable, a place where she hopes to reunite with her missing daughter and finally find some peace of mind.
Bit by bit, everything she knows is stripped away. Juliana’s central action becomes, over and over, her fight to hold on, to convince people that what she was seeing, and hearing, and doing was the correct version of reality. From her perspective, how could it not be, given her intelligence? Her aggressive self-assuredness only grows stronger as she fights to hold on to her version of reality. Because of the strength of Juliana’s fight, she only begins to falter once she was stripped down to almost nothing.
When she actually does visit the other place and encounters the current owner, whom she mistakenly believes is her daughter, the woman (played by Krystyna Ahlers) is initially unwelcoming and has problems of her own. Realizing Juliana is troubled, however, she sympathetically plays along with her intruder's obvious confusion. Soon the two women find mutual comfort as Juliana's husband arrives to take her home. And in a poignant, emotional, closing monologue, Juliana finally confronts what is really going on.
She literally had to lose everything in order to be able to admit that she was ill. And because of the stock that she’s placed in her own superiority, in her own intelligence and understanding of the world, this admission becomes her final blow.
We’ve seen many powerful stories before, whether in theatre, in literature, or in the news - about a great, controlling intellect falling to the inescapable forces of decline. White’s story, contemporarily speaking, is one of the more piercing and tonally on-target in theatre circles. But on a less literal level, “The Other Place” is also a play about regret, remorse, and the extraordinary measures a powerful mind can take in an attempt to sequester the toxic by-products of life from the conscious mind.
The supporting cast, by Hastings, Ahlers and Black, playing all parts, helped to make this show an exceptional presentation. Using clever ways to enhance performance levels, whether subliminal body language, humor, or megaphonic emotional projection, Director McCray has turned a delicate chamber performance by Ms. Wright and company into a great ringing cry from the darkness, suitable for an amphitheater, carrying us along blindly, obseassively, with edgy anxiety, for the ride of our lives. One minute Juliana is massive. The next—mouselike; and finally, painfully, merely person-sized. We can’t get a fix on her until she wants us to; but boy, does she have a fix on us.
The set is even surprising in the end. Entering the theatre, we are presented with a single chair in the center of the stage with little else in furnishings, except for a lightbox on the left wall that seems to change to suit the scene. What follows is a well-designed polished metamorphosis of the set (designed by Megan Hill), where, with a little nudge and push, beach houses, doctor’s offices, bedrooms and complete walls with fireplaces appear. The action is not only center stage, but in the corridors and back stage as well, allowing smooth scene transitions (stage managed by Bebe Herrera).
Lighting effects were outstanding, and by Alexander Le Vaillant Freer. Sound design is by Cricket S. Myers. Costumes by Kathryn Wilson, and Projection design by Nick Santiago. Dramaturgs are Casey Purlia Johnson and Madi Lang-Ree.
The Chance Theater, Bette Aitken theater arts Center is located at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., in Anaheim. Performances of “The Other Place” are Friday evenings at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm & 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Ticket information is at www.ChanceTheater.com. Discounts available for children (ages 4+), seniors, students and military. This show is Highly Recommended!
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