BWW Reviews: Marg Helgenberger in THE OTHER PLACE at Barrington Stage Co. in the Berkshires
The Emmy Award winning actress, Marg Helgenberger could not have picked a better role for her return to the stage. She is a no-nonsense actor who is not prone to histrionics or showiness. Her matter-of-fact demeaner has served her well on television and in film, and it provides a solid base for this theatre project. Turns out that her character Juliana in Sharr White's THE OTHER PLACE is also strong willed,, a successful scientist who is firmly in control of her life, her career and her emotions. But when her mind begins to misfire, the signs are subtle and, using her intellect, she concludes that she must have brain cancer. It runs in her family, she says.
Thus begins this personal puzzle play which given the intimacy between the audience and the actors on the St. Germain Stage, expands to envelop actors and audience into an intellectual embrace. You can see every blink, every wrinkle of the brow of the actors on stage and hear even their most secretive whispers and asides, and as the Barrington Stage opener unfolds, we find that the transformation taking place on stage does not reveal its secrets easily. We lean in closer, the better to study Marg Helgenberger's creation of a great mind disintegrating. She has an up-close style of acting that illuminates the smallish space as her journey takes its many twists and turns.
There's more air, more room to breathe in this admirable production of THE OTHER PLACE. While not as frenetic as Joe Mantello's 2011 New York production with Laurie Metcalf, director Christopher Innvar keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Here it runs 89 minutes vs. the 80 minutes the earlier New York production clocked in at. Helgenberger makes sure the audience hears every word of the script, no machine-gun delivery for her.
Which is a real gift to audiences since this "puzzle play" has more hairpin turns than a mountain road. Starting off as a strong, supremely confident woman with an illustrious scientific background in folding proteins, she is delivering a presentation to colleagues when she has what she calls "an incident." For someone with a strong intellect that is the core of her identity, this is the beginning of a crisis in which feelings of mild paranoia emerge, and enable her antagonism to harden into a contentious attitude. Her husband Ian (Brent Langdon) is hard pressed to figure out what is going on, as is her doctor, (Katya Campbell).
Lights, projections and sound changes provide essential clues as the story moves backwards and forwards in time, from relative stability to moments where everything we have seen so far seems to mistaken. Juliana decides she has brain cancer and resents the suggestion of anything else as the cause. But of course, the diagnosis is not at all what she expects, nor does the audience begin to see the holes in her perceptions until we are halfway through the play.
Facts don't add up. She talks to her estranged daughter Laurel on the phone, yet Ian, the father, never hears from her. There's a girl in a yellow string bikini who takes a seat in the middle of a medical lecture whom she mocks. A fight at their second home on Cape Cod when daughter and her lab assistant are found together.
The puzzle pieces multiply as the play unfolds and as we approach the final scenes some missing pieces come into play, revealing new facts. (Or are they?) The nature of Juliana's existence gets a radical change from that of a self reliant master of her own destiny, to a simpler human being, still able to function, but without the hubris of invincibility. It is a touching, tear-welling moment in which the brilliant Marg Helgenberger reconnects with her audience, and in a final monologue, as she explains it all to us, our hearts melt.
Sharr White has meticulously crafted this play into a lovely theatrical maze which takes us on a wild ride, with a terrific payoff that arrives in the final ten minutes. And that's all we are going to say about it, except to remark on the fact that there is not a dull moment in the whole 89 minutes. Most unexpectedly, you may even leave the theatre a different person than when you arrived.
Barrington Stage Company presents Marg Helgenberger in THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White. Directed by Christopher Innvar; Scenic & Projection Designer - Brian Prather; Costume Designer - Kristina Sheshkoff; Lighting Designer - Scott Pinkney; Original Music and Sound Designer - Anthony Mattana; Casting - Pat McCorkle, CSA; Production Stage Manager - Michael Andrew Rodgers; Director of Production - Jeff Roudabush; Press Representative - Charlie Siedenburg.
Cast: Juliana - Marg Helgenberger; The Woman - Katya Campbell; Ian - Brent Langdon; The Man - Adam Donshik. May 21 - June 14, 2014. St. Germain Stage, Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA. BarringtonStageCo.org 413 236-8888
Photo: Kevin Sprague