"The Other Place" devastatingly dissects the nature of identity and reality
Sharr White’s Broadway hit The Other Place dissects in devastating detail personal identity and the fragile nature of reality. At the same time, it gently reminds us that hope and forgiveness spring eternal. These two seemingly opposite themes make for haunting yet compelling theatre.
Sharr White’s Broadway hit The Other Place takes apart personal identity and the fragile, unstable nature of reality. At the same time, it gently reminds us that hope and forgiveness spring eternal. These two seemingly opposite themes make for haunting yet compelling drama.
The Performing Arts Lodge is a large rectangular room in an apartment building. It’s as intimate as you can get – perfect for this play. As the audience trickled in, Juliana Smithton (Chilton Crane) walked on stage, sat down in the sparse set, drank from her water bottle and wrote in her day-timer. Slim and sexy in a dark business suit, she exuded confidence and strength without saying a word.
Juliana, 52, is at the height of her scientific career. As she coolly pitches a new wonder brain drug to an unseen medical audience, she spots a mysterious woman at the back of the room wearing a yellow bikini. It throws her off. What is going on? Abruptly, with a simple lighting cue, we switched to her doctor’s office where she treats her doctor (Avery Crane) with sarcasm and condescension, denying there’s anything wrong with her. Another abrupt lighting cue switched us to a scene with her husband, Ian (Daryl Shuttleworth). She insists he’s having an affair and they are getting a divorce. He denies both. They argue about Laurel, their estranged daughter. Moments later we switched back to her pitch – and the mysterious woman in the yellow bikini.
Photo by Anne Marie Slater
As White’s script shifted seamlessly through past and present in synch with the unraveling of Juliana’s mind, the audience realized that she was delusional. White interlaced complex biological functions (focusing on high-level neuroscience) into his story and simultaneously embraced the emotions related to these functions. He has created a shattering story about memory, love, and life and what happens when they fall away. He’s also made a puzzle out of the scenes colliding in Juliana’s mind and forced the audience to solve it. It kept us alert and engaged to the end.
The Vancouver cast is marvellous. Chilton Crane as Juliana was simply extraordinary in a demanding role that forced her to constantly switch emotions and personalities. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Daryl Shuttleworth as Ian, Juliana’s husband, evoked heartbreak yet strength when his damaged wife shredded him with her abuse. Avery Crane, Chilton’s real-life daughter, stood out in this strong cast. She played three parts, all of them extremely well: Laurel, the estranged daughter, Juliana’s doctor, and the owner of the Other Place – the Cape Cod cottage where Juliana remembers better times and has her final meltdown. Nick Hunnings did an excellent job in supporting roles as both Richard, Laurel’s husband, and a helpful nurse.
Deftly directed by Christy Webb who used every inch of the tiny stage, this play, with its lifetime of love and pain, came in at only 75 minutes. Major kudos to Sharr White for keeping it both taut and tight. Sensible costumes and set by Naomi Sider, intelligent lighting by Conor Moore, and unobtrusive sound by Candelario Andrade enhanced this excellent production. I loved the Projection Design by Jamie Nesbitt. Projected on several jagged panels at the rear, these visuals changed from the slides accompanying Juliana’s pitch to her doctor’s office to the cottage and back again. They always complemented, never overwhelmed.
In the final scene, Juliana accepts her reality and says “I am a woman in-between. The sky and the earth. The past and the future. This place and the other.” Projected in the background is the beach at Cape Cod. A little girl, her daughter Laurel in a yellow two-piece bathing suit, plays in the sand. Laurel is the woman in the yellow bikini. A poignant, full circle ending to a brilliant play. The Other Place has marked Sharr White as a formidable talent.
The Other Place: June 26 @ 8pm runs until July 5 @ 8pm, Matinee on
Sunday, June 29 @ 2pm at PAL, Performing Arts Lodge 581 Cardero Street ,