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BWW Review: Circuit's THE OTHER PLACE Is 'Down the Rabbit Hole'

Throughout Sunday's matinee of Sharr White's intensely watchable THE OTHER PLACE at Circuit, for some reason I kept thinking of Edgar Allan Poe's "A Dream Within a Dream" and, particularly, of these lines: "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream. / I stand amid the roar / Of a surf-tormented shore, / And I hold within my hand / Grains of the golden sand -- / How few! yet how they creep / Through my fingers to the deep, / While I weep -- while I weep." THE OTHER PLACE, ably directed by the always dependable Dave Landis, is somewhat constructed like a Chinese puzzle box. Like the main character, a drug company scientist named "Juliana Smithton" (who, in turn, is married to "Ian," an oncologist), the audience is continually challenged with questions of what is real and what is not.

Initially, we see the uptight, caustic main character addressing a gathering of medical professionals at a convention on St. Thomas Island. Yet, as her slide show progresses and as we see her distracted by the scantily clad young woman seemingly out of place in the audience, erratic shifts in time and place occur, and Juliana is like an "Alice" who has fallen down the rabbit hole and landed on her head. Her mind darts off to different times -- and "the other place" becomes "other places." Ostensibly, the "other place" is the Cape Cod home she shared with her husband and daughter until the latter disappeared, along with Juliana's former co-worker, the older, but boyishly looking "Richard" (Kinon Keplinger, looking startlingly like a distant cousin of Florida Senator Marco Rubio!) The daughter, "Lauren," now a mother of twins (this is a significant point as the play progresses, if you think about it -- think of the twins in Tom Tryon's THE OTHER, or Hitchcock's visual imagery of "two" in PSYCHO), has become estranged from her parents. She communicates with her mother, but not with her concerned father.

Without giving anything away -- and there's a lot to give away, as a new turn or twist presents itself after every few passages --, there's something similar here to the "games" of "George" and "Martha" in Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? The play unfolds like a constantly surprising succession of mind games, with the exception that one of the minds involved isn't . . . coherent; and there's a good reason. Other characters (played with skill and variation by Mr. Keplinger and Kim Sanders) slip in and out of encounters -- a doctor, a male nurse, a stranger, and so forth.

Loss (as well as "other places") is continually present in this play -- there's the loss of physical places, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a partner, the loss of one's faculties; and Sound Designer Zach Badreddine (with the otherworldly techno music, the roar of ocean, etc.) and Lighting Designer Zo Haynes (wait until you see the silhouette at the end of the play) reinforce the main character's tensions, suspicions, and confusion. At the center of this maelstrom is that canny actress Kim Justis as the angry, tormented, and ultimately sympathetic "Juliana"; whether railing at her estranged husband, making snarky comments at the "out of place" young woman at the convention, or endlessly demanding an ashtray from her patient doctor, she is expert. Strong, too, is the frustrated "Ian," an emotionally raw turn by Michael Gravois; he is perplexed, desperate, and supportive.

Barely over an hour (and with no intermission), THE OTHER PLACE challenges at every turn, and it is a fine showcase for its director and actors (and that "gray matter" set by Phillip Hughen is terraced and imaginative). I won't betray what's true and what's not true about the events that take place on stage; but, rest assured, this "Alice" will come to some kind of peace by the play's end; and the audience will be able to put together the pieces of this riveting puzzle. However, just as Juliana's future seems largely assured, take care -- again, "all we see . . . and . . . seem" may not be what it appears. Through February 21.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)