BWW Reviews: TheaterWorks Explores THE OTHER PLACE a Mind Can Go
By Lauren Yarger
Where does a woman who is an expert on dementia turn when everyone around her tells her she's losing her mind?
The complex answer comes in various parts in Sharr White's complex psychological study THE OTHER PLACE getting a run at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
Kate Levy plays Juliana Smithton, a neurologist and expert in the subject of dementia who is a spokesperson for Identanyl, a new treatment for the disease. She's been under a lot of stress and has been having some "episodes." Husband, Ian (R. Ward Duffy) is leaving her. The couple have never quite recovered from the disappearance of their headstrong daughter, Laurel (Amelia McClain). They hope she ran off with Juliana's assistant, Richard (Clark Carmichael) after an argument, but they haven't heard from her again and have feared the worst - until Juliana starts getting phone calls from her.
Laurel and Richard have married, Juliana learns and have twin girls whom she can hear in the background as she chats with Richard. Laurel is reluctant to come to the phone, but when she finally does speak with her mother, Juliana tells her she's having some tests regarding the "episodes" and that she thinks it might be brain cancer.
Oncologist Ian and Juliana's doctor (also McClain) aren't so sure. Nothing shows cancer, but Juliana's behavior, including rages, repeated conversations and a sort of breakdown at a medical conference seem to indicate something else. Ian doesn't even believe that Juliana has finally tracked down Laurel.
In her confusion, Juliana returns to the one place that represents stability and peace in her life - the family's summer home on Cape Cod which they call "The Other Place" (Designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella's set nicely morphs from the sterile doctor's office and lecture stage to the warm, memory-filled beach house). There, she finds extraordinary kindness and understanding from a stranger (also McClain) and finally is able to figure out what's going on.
Director Rob Ruggiero neatly directs the character-driven piece with the addition of video projections (design by William Cusick) that give a glimpse into the mind of Juliana. Images of a rainstorm, for example, combined with lighting effects designed by John Lasiter, brilliantly produce the same tempest taking place in Juliana's mind.
Levy shows a wide arc of emotions as the character goes from educated woman in control of her life to someone not quite sure who to trust, including herself. She tends to play all of the ranges, unfortunately, with a ferocity that doesn't allow us to see enough of Juliana's fear and vulnerability through the process. In addition, chemistry isn't quite there with Duffy, who gets blown away by the intensity of Levy's performance. We're not quite sure whether to feel sorry for him or Juliana.
McClain stands out, first as the sympathetic, but fascinated doctor, then as an empathetic stranger who puts her own worries aside to try to help Juliana find answers about what happened to Laurel and to whether or not she's losing her mind. This scene, while giving Levy some of her most dramatic moments, stands out in White's script as not quite plausible, however.
Overall, The Other Place is a fairly intense and moving 90 minutes of theater. It plays through April 19 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; 860-527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.