Juliana Smithton (an extraordinary Laurie Metcalf) – caustic, condescending, mocking mother of a distant runaway daughter, successful neurologist and scientific researcher who is in the throws of a divorce has lots of problems as she pitches her new “wonder dementia drug” that doesn’t seem to be helping her one bit as she experiences “episodes” that cause her to lose focus, go blank, and have horrible mood swings.
Least of her problems but one that Juliana obsesses over is the young, attractive woman in the yellow string bikini sitting among those doctors listening to her sales pitch as we are lured into her complicated life that is slowly descending into dementia.
Juliana has always had problems as we discover in the compelling new memory loss play THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White that is expertly directed by Joe Mantello who has assembled a fine creative team to bring this stark and stirring drama to life as produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on West 47th Street. It’s a production that sneaks up on you and hits you with a hard emotional wallop that is what good theater should accomplish.
Laurie Metcalf sits center stage in a cage like set by Eugene Lee & Edward Pierce as we enter the theatre to hear her lecture. She sits almost motionless. It’s eerie. She seems deeply troubled but sits there calmly like a wax mannequin from Madame Tussauds.
She is dressed simply but chicly (David Zinn) in black. Spike heels show off her gorgeous legs. She is physically fit until she begins her dark journey that will leave her shrunken and barefoot on the floor being fed by a woman she has mistaken for her daughter (Zoe Perry – in one of three roles – giving an equally remarkable performance) Ms. Perry, by the way is Laurie Metcalf’s daughter which adds just another intriguing aspect to their portrayals.
Then the problems surface, bubbling up until they reach a boiling and breaking point allowing Ms. Metcalf to give a layered and multi textured performance that stuns and is award worthy.
Her husband Ian (Daniel Stern) is impressive as he grapples with the loss of his wife’s memory and her inability to cope.
John Schiappa as the older husband of their daughter who had his career ruined by Juliana is a noticeable good presence in the non-linear short scenes he is in that intermittently break up the lecture with its excellent projections (William Cusick) and appropriate non-intrusive original music by Fitz Patton.
Being told you do not have brain cancer should be a good thing. Unless you haves something far worse that cannot be treated.
www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com Photos: Joan Marcus
NOTE: THE OTHER PLACE had its world premiere at MCC Theater March 11, 2011.
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