Sharr Jackson’s play The Other Place seems to owe a lot to Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer winning 1995 play Wit.
Both works have a mature woman going through a severe medical crisis that prompts her to re-assess her life.
In both cases, the woman makes glib remarks to the audience in between scenes acted out from her personal experience, often involving medically-related tugs-of-war.
In both plays, the character can be condescending and difficult, clearly needing to reach out for humanity (including her own) en route to learning a valuable lesson.
In The Other Place, the lead character–a 52-year-old scientist-turned-pitchperson named Juliana–feels she must be suffering from brain cancer, since she had a weird episode while giving a presentation and after all, several relatives of hers have died of the same illness.
More likely, it’s a form of creeping dementia–the same affliction she happens to be a specialist in–and it’s not clear when it started, where it’s leading, what happened to the daughter who disappeared years ago, and what the supposed sight of a woman in a yellow bikini truly means.
A trip to “the other place”–Juliana’s Cape Cod weekend home of yore–uncorks some of the answers and leads to some realizations.
On the way to that, the play comes off a little too pleased with its own profundity, but it ends up packing up a punch, no small thanks to Laurie Metcalf‘s brilliant turn as the unraveling Juliana.
Never sugarcoating the character or what she’s going through, Metcalf is brittle, moody, raging, vulnerable, and shatteringly confused. She gives what will surely be considered one of this season’s finest performances.
Daniel Stern is also very good as the put-upon husband who finds it hard to bear Juliana’s disintegration but aims for ruffled stoicism.
The set–a pileup of wooden window frames–is too aggressively metaphorical and really hard to look at, but director Joe Mantello keeps things going at a clip (flashes of light and sound are used as jolts).
The Other Place might lack poetry–or Wit–but its emotional moments are potent. And Metcalf? Unforgettable.
She even holds focus for the half hour before the play starts, sitting onstage in a chair, fiddling with a device, and trying to make sense of things. I could definitely do without this gimmick in general, but 30 minutes more of Metcalf is always a good thing.