Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Other Place

Laurie Metcalf’s portrayal of a deeply troubled middle-aged woman in Sharr White’s play The Other Place is so real it’s painful at times to watch. As her character, Juliana, careens between illusion and reality, Metcalf builds suspense that left me curious to learn the truth in this tight 70-minute drama at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

The three supporting characters are strong as well -- Daniel Stern as her husband, Ian; Zoe Perry, who plays several roles, including that of her estranged daughter (they are mother and daughter in real life); and John Schiappa, as a former colleague. We learn the truth behind the mother/daughter alienation and Juliana’s illusions in the heartbreaking final scene.

As for the play itself, which is directed by Joe Mantello, I liked it better the next day when I thought about it. Juliana’s hysteria -- aimed at her husband whom she suspects of having affairs and about the brain tumor she thinks she has -- wore on me after awhile. But for the most part it held my interest as I tried to work out Juliana’s truth. 

Initially we see her as a medical researcher turned pharmaceutical promoter giving a lecture to a group of doctors. Our first indication that all is not as it seems comes when she begins obsessing about a young woman in a yellow bikini seated in the audience, a figure no one else seems to see. Scenes fade from one to another as we begin to question Juliana’s sanity.

The way she sees it, she is divorcing her husband over infidelity, and their daughter, who ran away as a teenager, is now a young mother married to her former colleague and back in touch by telephone. Ian tries to point out other realities, that they are not divorcing and that their daughter got into a car with a stranger a decade ago and is now likely dead.

The play’s title refers to a house on Cape Cod the family used to own. It is here the truth is revealed, and Metcalf has built her performance to perfectly unveil the climax. You may not be surprised, but you will surely be affected.

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