BWW Reviews: Completely Blind-Sighted in Central Square Theatre's THE OTHER PLACE
It is not often that a show completely turns around on its head and has me completely blind-sighted, searching for answers. Usually, a fairly clear path is set and even the wildest of plot twists fit in along that planned journey. More often than not, after a surprising show, you look back and say, "Oh, that makes sense. I can't believe I missed it!" rather than being truly shocked. Last night, however, I experienced a piece that I could not predict. A piece that had me exclaiming, "wait, what?" and left me silent and contemplative post performance, whereas usually I cannot wait to overanalyze every detail. This one got me thinking.
The piece in question is The Other Place by Sharr White, presented by the Underground Railroad Theater and the Nora Theatre Company at the Central Square Theater. About a middle-aged scientist faced with a crumbling marriage, an estranged daughter, and a mystery illness that she is trying to self-diagnose, the story is described by director Bridget Kathleen O'Leary as a logic puzzle. It's about figuring things out, which is clever, because that is what the audience is desperately trying to do as well.
The show is structured cleverly, jumping back and forth between a direct address to the audience, flashbacks, and a play by play commentary of a medical presentation the protagonist is giving, all of which seem controlled by the leading lady's wishes. These fast paced transitions appeared effortless, which is not only due to the skillful planning of O'Leary, but also to Lighting Designer Chris Brusberg, whose design was clear and smooth, helping the audience understand each location and story-telling method. I have a soft spot for stories that are not chronological and must be figured out along the way, so I enjoyed myself.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the theatre was the quasi-abstract set: a large blue wall with windows and a barren stage, save for a few chairs. The sparseness of the scenery balanced the hectic action and changing locations well. But what was most impressive about the scenic design, by Janie E. Howland, was that these walls were actually translucent and when lights were positioned a certain way, the audience could see a complete, detailed entryway to a house (the other place), which was used in the less concrete scenes and flashbacks. It was a beautiful surprise.
The small cast is led by superwoman Debra Wise, who doubles as the Artistic Director of one of the theatre companies. At first, I was hesitant, as the speaking to the audience and performing the medical presentation are both very showy, but by the end I was simply in awe. This show is a marathon for Wise, who never leaves the stage. She effortless switches story telling methods, emotions, and techniques, painting a complex and devastating picture of a woman trying to salvage her marriage and her life. Wise is jointly hilariously sassy and heartbreaking, and is very clearly the reason I was so invested.
Although this is undoubtedly Wise's show, the other cast members support her well. David DeBeck plays her husband, desperate for some order, and provides for a heartbreaking climax. Until that point, Wise and DeBeck's energies are a bit mismatched (his grounded, slower pace juxtaposes her frantic, constantly in motion one), so it didn't surprise me that the couple was having trouble. But towards the end, I saw why they were together in the first place. Angie Jepson and Jaime Carrillo play the remaining characters, switching hats easily and effortlessly. The three are an integral part of telling Wise's character's story.
The play takes a bit too long to explain things, and the general atmosphere is a tad too aggressive for my taste, but on the whole, I have very little negative to say. This show made me think and worry and feel. In order to keep the show's secret, I cannot comment on the ending, other than to say it did not end where I was expecting and is still something I am playing over in my head. One of the characters talks about how her life didn't end up going down the path she thought it would, which is fairly representative of both the protagonist's story and my experience as an audience member. But how refreshing it was not to know what was coming.
Written by Sharr White; Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary; Set Design by Janie E. Howland; Costume Design by Leslie Held; Lighting Design by Chris Brusberg; Sound Design by David Remedios; Projections Designed by John Oluwole ADEkoje; Props and Set Dressings by Joe Stallone; Dramaturgy by David Allen; Stage Managed by Dominique D. Burford; Assistant Stage Managed by Katherine Humbert