Review: ‘The Other Place’ at Dreamcatcher Rep in Summit
Baby boomers (like me) worry when they cannot remember a word or a name, but watching someone slide into dementia is painful and heartrending, especially when that person is a 52-year-old research scientist who has discovered a drug that can treat the disorder.
That is the premise of Sharr White's 2012 Tony Award-nominated drama, The Other Place. Dreamcatcher Rep has chosen this play to inaugurate their 19th season and, true to their mission of sharing life-affirming stories in an intimate environment, have mounted a production worthy of the Broadway stage.
The psychologically complex play is told through a series of flashbacks mixed with the present and future. Juliana Smithton’s research has lead to a potential breakthrough, but her life takes a disorienting turn when she starts behaving strangely. In a series of tautly written scenes with her oncologist husband, her doctor, her daughter and her former research assistant, Juliana’s heart and mind are laid bare as layers of regret, yearning and mourning are stripped away. Mysteries pile up until the truth is revealed one devastating night.
The “other place” of the title is Juliana’s family home on Cape Cod where she has spent most summers of her life. But it also refers to the other place where Juliana goes when she retreats into her memories of life before her teenage daughter Laurel ran away from home, supposedly with Richard, Juliana’s post doc student, never to be heard from again.
Clark Carmichael’s solid direction keeps the dramatic intensity ratcheted up as the plot marches on to its inexorable dénouement. Harriett Trangucci’s scarily intense portrayal of Juliana takes the audience’s sympathy for the character on a roller coaster ride. At times, her sharp-toned antagonism exasperates us; at other times, her confusion breaks our hearts. The character’s transformation from prickly beginning to pathetic end is nothing short of astonishing. As her husband, Ian, Harry Patrick Christian is almost at the end of his rope as he tries to ground Juliana in reality and make her face her decline. He is the main target of his wife’s rages. He is so wounded by the situation that at one point he just sinks to his knees and cries. That Trangucci and Christian are part of a true ensemble of actors makes their relationship very convincing, an important fact given that they (or Juliana, really) are the two characters around whom the action swirls.
Jessica O’Hara-Baker plays multiple roles, from officious physician to rebellious daughter to the unnamed current owner of The Other Place who is startled to find Juliana in the house one morning, uninvited and unknown. As the latter, O’Hara-Baker is annoyed at first, but her humanity takes over and she treats Juliana tenderly, like the child she has become. Dave Maulbeck does a fine job in the small role of Laurel’s husband/Juliana’s former colleague Richard Silmer.
Zach Pizza’s lighting helps the audience switch its attention through what could be disorienting scene changes. Laura Ekstrand’s costumes are appropriate to the characters.
Sharr White’s play focuses attention on a condition worthy of our notice and full-out research studies to find, if not a cure, then a treatment. And the folks at Dreamcatcher Rep have given us a production that will certainly inform us, educate us and make us care about those who suffer from it—and those who care for them.
“Dave Maulbeck does a fine job.”
By Ruth Ross for NJ Arts Maven | February 4, 2013
Harriett Trangucci & Jessica O’Hara-Baker in The Other Place at Dreamcatcher Rep
“Harriett Trangucci’s... transformation from prickly beginning to pathetic end is nothing short of astonishing.”
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“Clark Carmichael’s solid direction keeps the dramatic intensity ratcheted up.”
Ruth Ross, NJ Arts Maven