The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

Scary Moments in “The Other Place”

By Tom Nissley

Sharr White’s heavy drama about a woman’s nervous breakdown and what may be steps to recovery has been playing at TheaterWorks Hartford. It is beautifully staged, and directed by Rob Ruggerio. Four actors fulfill seven or eight roles. Kate Levy is Juliana Smithton. R Ward Duffy is Ian Smithton, her oncologist husband, with more loyalty than one expects to find after Juliana repeatedly attacks and accuses him with verbal thrusts that most observers would call abuse. Amelia McClain and Clark Carmichael, identified as “the woman” and “the man” play the accessory roles with great flexibility.

The other place, in the title, refers to a home on Cape Cod the Smithtons once owned, where they lived with their daughter, who disappeared one night after an argument with Juliana.┬áThat was years ago, but in Juliana’s mind it provides a constant source for flashbacks and new memories of events and twin grandchildren that do not really exist. At one point Juliana ends up at the old house and walks in, imagining that she lives there still, shocked to find a young woman who owns the house now, who is equally shocked to find a stranger in her living room when she returns home in the late afternoon.

The play is brilliantly conceived -- reality and madness interchange, and the gaps in Juliana’s story do not match at all the hints that Ian offers to explain their history. The best that these two partners, each with professional degrees in the world of medicine, can do is fight viciously with he said / she said comments, but it is clear that Juliana is falling apart. She loses self-control, in the fullest meaning of those words, in the middle of a presentation she is making to a medical symposium in St. Thomas. Sure in her own mind that she has brain cancer, she is offended when one of Ian’s colleagues examines her for dementia, but her breakdown goes deeper and farther than dementia and her world is peopled with hallucinations, phone calls she has received, and memories that have been created to complete her defense mechanisms.

The picture that emerges is terrifyingly accurate as a portrayal of where we go when we slip away from reality into a place that is hard to invade, and hard to heal. I only imagine that it was as scary for others as it was for me to watch this happen, and be reminded of stuck places and lost moments in our own lives.

A difficulty, or perhaps genius, of the play is how much of the background is only sketchily revealed. It’s a terrific production by four skilled actors, and it leaves poignant memories for an audience to carry home.

“The Other Place” runs through April 19. Call TheaterWorks at 860-527-7838 to arrange tickets.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre -- April 16, 2014

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