The Other Place

By Sharr White
Directed by Joe Mantello
Featuring Laurie Metcalf, Daniel Stern, Zoe Perry, John Schiappa
Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street
January 10, 2013 (opening) — March 3, 2013
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 8, 2013

Laurie Metcalf as Juliana.
Laurie Metcalf as Juliana.

The Other Place unspools like a mystery story with well-paced clues and revelations. The actress Laurie Metcalf mesmerizes and Sharr White‘s play enchants. And along the way we are disturbed and moved and reminded of the power of theatrical story telling in a swift yet nuanced intermission-less punch of humanity.

We are told and shown a story about memory and pain, and are surprised along the way as we learn to both trust and question our narrators. Juliana (Metcalf), seated quietly in a chair center stage as we enter and take our seats, is a medical researcher who has an experience at a conference that soon morphs into memories of a child who ran away some years before. We learn she now is in medical sales and not pure research, as she once was, and the product she sells is perversely related to her own life. A woman of acute brain power and great humor. Who we are — the audience at the seminar, a confessor, a friend — is sometimes unclear and it doesn’t matter in the end. Juliana tells us jokes and shares things she is seeing and feeling — a women in a bikini sitting amidst the seat of suited men in her conference; phone calls and ultimately a meeting involving a young women Juliana believes is her long-lost daughter (Zoe Perry); coded conversations with her husband Ian (Daniel Stern). This is a narrated dreamscape of our special places, our “other places” that get away, that are pivotal in our life stories.

Set by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce provides organic shapes that morph into walls and peepholes and what might be brain waves or genetic material. Projection and video design by William Cusick alternately informs (a medical production slide show) and breaks your heart. And at the core of this mesmerizing play is a mesmerizing actress, Ms. Metcalf, taking control of the room from a seated position facing her audience at the top of the show and facing her own memories, back to us, in the final moments. And we are transported.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 31, 2013)

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