The Other Place - Emotional and Brilliant

By Karen Isaacs

One of most people's greatest fears is the fear of losing one's mind either through mental illness, disease or dementia. The Other Place which is now getting a stunning production at the TheaterWorks in Hartford tackles that difficult issue. The play by Sharr White was performed last year on Broadway. Now Connecticut audiences can see this fine work.

The play opens with Juliana, a scientist, preparing and giving a presentation to a group of doctors about a new drug for which she holds the patent that deals with brain disease. But her job now is to market the drug. During the presentation she has what she calls "an event." From there we follow her journey to final diagnosis and the end when she once again speaking at a medical conference, but this time as a patient taking the drug.

In the taut 80 minutes of the play we are taken on an amazing journey.

What is going on? Is she talking with her long lost daughter? Is the daughter married to Juliana's former post-doc? Is Juliana's husband, an oncologist, divorcing her? Does she have cancer? The play moves us back and forth from what Juliana believes is real, to the neurologist she is seeing, to arguments with her husband, to her struggles to remember words. No wonder she rages as her analytical mind deserts her. But for how long has this been occurring?

Playwright Sharr White allows us to become unsure of what is real and what is not. At first it all seems true, but then our doubts begin. The play has been called a "psychological thriller." I am not sure I agree with that description, but it does force the audience to confront the realities of uncertainty and to realize that we all live uncertain lives.

Kate Levy gives a stellar performance as Juliana from her in-control scientific persona to the underlying woman. We see her frustrations and fears rage at the surface. R. Ward Duffy is her equal as her husband. Amelia McClain and Clark Carmichael play a variety of roles and sometimes you are not sure who they truly are, which adds to the sense of confusion. We are as confused as Juliana.

Rob Ruggiero has directed this piece with a deft hand. He has brought the emotions to the forefront. While the more intimate TheaterWorks stage obviously contributes, I found this production more touching and frightening then the fine Broadway production last year. That one allowed me to remain outside the characters. Ruggiero has forced me to identify more closely with them.

The title has multiple meanings. To Juliana it refers to her childhood home, a refuge on Cape Cod that she visited ever weekend. But it obviously also symbolizes both the safe haven of memories in our minds to which we can retreat and the terrifying world of mental deterioration where we lose touch with reality, ourselves and our loved ones.

This is a play that you may find difficult to watch -- for too many of us have known someone in Juliana's situation -- but it is also theater at its best.

The Other Place is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford, through April 19. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.


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