YA author and voice-over talent Meredith Zeitlin offers her thoughts on this off-Broadway production.
Here’s the thing about Sharr White’s new play The Other Place, sparely directed by Joe Mantello at the Lucille Lortel Theatre: it’s quite good. But it doesn’t actually matter. You buy a ticket to see Laurie Metcalf.
There’s a reason she’s won so many awards and unanimous acclaim throughout her career – she’s mesmerizing to watch onstage. Though in her 50s, Metcalf appears to be no older than 30, lean and lithe as she moves through the nearly bare space. Her character, Juliana, is a neuroscientist who alternates between lecturing a group of fellow scientists about the new drug she’s developed, and trying to understand an “episode” that occurred during the lecture in real time. The play is incredibly effective in its construction: for the first half hour, the audience sees everything from Juliana’s clipped, serious perspective, and takes it as truth. Not until her husband Ian (played simply but powerfully by Dennis Boutsikaris) makes a stunning revelation does it become clear that perhaps Juliana is not the most trustworthy narrator.
That Juliana may be suffering from the exact same condition she has developed a treatment for is a bit on the nose, and there’s no question that the play itself has a “disease of the moment” quality. But the dialogue rings true and is often very funny, and the interweaving of Julia’s lecture and what’s going on behind the scenes is almost seamless. The supporting cast, Aya Cash and John Schiappa, each play several small roles that fill in the spaces nicely. Ms. Cash in particular is very effective as the new owner of Juliana’s old home (the “other place” of the title) in a scene where a distraught Juliana breaks in and is convinced that Cash’s character – a total stranger – is, in fact, her daughter.
Regardless, it is Metcalf’s performance that truly drives the show. As Juliana starts to deteriorate and lose her grasp on reality, Metcalf runs the gamut of emotions from confused disbelief to furious denial and everything in between. Her vulnerability and pain – and moments of bright, overwhelming joy – are laid totally bare for the audience to experience with her, almost to the point of discomfort. By the time the curtain comes down, Juliana is totally transformed, and it’s an exhausting and exhilarating process to watch. Her smart, beautiful performance is sure to garner even more accolades for Ms. Metcalf come awards season.
THE OTHER PLACE
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.
Through April 24
Meredith Zeitlin is a voice-over talent and YA author. Her voice-over work can be found at her official website, MZSpeaks.com. Her debut novel, Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, will be published by Putnam in spring 2012.