Even as the audience finds their seats at Manhattan Theater Club’s presentation of The Other Place, the juxtaposition of human strength and fragility and the whisper of the bridge between, sits in elegant contradiction on the stage. In dusk-like shadow Laurie Metcalf as Juliana, a neuromedical researcher turned drug therapy shill, meditates in a chair. Her erect posture and cross-legged position emanate businesslike certitude: here’s a woman who knows her place in the world.
Or does she? Like the simple but symbolic set’s multitude of white-framed windows stacked erratically against one another (designed by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce)— a giant Jenga game waiting to topple over—the audience, as well as Juliana, soon recognize that memory can also unexpectedly and easily unravel, leaving even the most confident persona in confused pieces.
What makes playwright Sharr White’s storytelling so compelling, and sometimes also frustrating, is the nonlinear unfolding of Juliana’s situation. When Metcalf finally rises from her seated position, she offers a hint of the problem as she begins talking about her first “episode” during a presentation about a patented protein therapy she helped create. As Juliana narrates her power point to an invisible St. Thomas crowd of doctors, she tells the theater audience about a bikini-clad woman at the conference and the caustic remarks she inflicts on her from the stage. Does Juliana mock her because of the youth she represents? Does the hate generate from her own husband’s philandering? Or is it something more?
Intercut with Juliana’s presentation, we see her interact with a lost daughter, she recently and awkwardly, re-connected with, spar with a young doctor she thinks incompetent, and argue with a husband who insists he’s not unfaithful nor is he divorcing her. The Other Place makes its audience uncomfortable—not just because it ultimately addresses the terrible result of dementia, but as Juliana grows more befuddled, we do, too. The barrier between what’s real and what’s invented memory perplexes us and reminds all of the precarious nature of the things that make us ourselves. Metcalf, who also appeared in last spring’s MCC Theater production of the play’s Off-Broadway premiere, shows Juliana as the bristly and sarcastic person dementia created, while subtly hinting at the charm and wit overshadowed by the disease. The rest of the cast support Metcalf beautifully, with Daniel Stern as her husband, Ian, and Zoe Perry, Metcalf’s real-life daughter, playing several roles, including the prodigal daughter and a nicely rendered turn as a kind stranger. Although the play’s end mimics a Lifetime television, disease-of-the week movie, with its pat-like finale, The Other Place still resonates with the very real sadness of someone coming undone (TDF ticket, mezzanine).