Memory & Mystery Collide at TheaterWorks
By Tom Holehan
“The Other Place”, Sharr White’s mesmerizing new play blending memory and mystery, is being given a first-rate production at TheaterWorks in Hartford. In what has been pretty much a hit or miss theatre season thus far, “The Other Place” easily races to the front of the pack.
At a doctors’ conference at a St. Thomas resort, Scientist Juliana Smithton (Kate Levy) is extolling the virtues of a new drug she helped develop. Juliana seems confident and witty in her smartly tailored suit and fashionable high heels (credit costumer Dorothy Marshall English). Her smoky voice and delivery might remind one of Kathleen Turner in her youth. As Juliana presents her lectures she makes side comments to us explaining an “episode” she recently experienced during this particular event as well as the history of brain cancer in her family and -- most importantly -- the odd presence of a young woman in a yellow bikini who is currently sitting in on her talk. As White’s play progresses, layers of mystery are unraveled with past and present revealed in a non-linear structure. We soon discover that Juliana may not be the most reliable narrator of this particular story. The pace and structure of “The Other Place”, seamlessly directed by Rob Ruggiero, is most important as we hang on for a breathless 82 minutes (without intermission) wondering where Juliana’s strange and engrossing story will take us.
To reveal much more of the plot would be a disservice to theatergoers as one of the play’s many pleasures (if that’s the correct term) is the discovery of its core mystery. Chief among the attributes here is Kate Levy’s compelling central performance as Juliana. The role is a complex and grueling one, but Levy rarely hits a false note drawing us into her story and her world where present meets past with often devastating consequences. She is ably assisted by the only other woman in the cast, Amelia McClain, who is wonderful playing no less than three roles. One of these is at the play’s tense climax that she shares with Levy and which becomes the highlight of this richly rewarding drama.
In the other important role, however, R. Ward Duffy isn’t ideally cast as Juliana’s patient husband. He starts fine but when more emotion is called for, Duffy works hard and the results are unconvincing. It’s a very actorly performance, very aware and somewhat stilted at times. Still, his rapport with Levy can’t be faulted and his shortcomings remain a small blip in an overall splendidly acted production.
Set Designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella has worked miracles on TheaterWorks’ limited stage by suggesting several areas including a Cape Cod beach house. John Lasiter’s lighting illuminates effectively at several key moments and Fitz Patton’s original music and sound design help transition scenes immeasurably. William Cusick’s original video and projection design (from the Broadway production) are also invaluable and add significantly to the play’s heartbreaking coda. “The Other Place” is a rare work of contemporary art and TheaterWorks is currently a perfect place to catch it. Bravo.
“The Other Place” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through April 19. For ticket reservations call 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.