The Other Place seems at first like a straightforward drama: Juliana, a brilliant and highly esteemed 59-year-old scientist, is beginning to suffer from memory loss. This brings her into conflict with her husband Ian, who is already in the midst of divorcing her, and her adult daughter, who has been estranged from the family for years.
But there’s a lot going on under the surface in Sharr White’s fascinating play. Yes, we see Juliana begin to forget more and more. But as she begins to deteriorate, she becomes consumed by anger, suspicion and paranoia – imagining, for instance, that the female doctor she’s consulting is having an affair with Ian. When Ian tells Juliana that this affair has “no basis in reality,” she retorts “To you, maybe.”
And that’s the key to the success of The Other Place. The play builds suspense by gradually and judiciously revealing how much Juliana’s perception differs from reality, climaxing in a series of revelations that turn the play on its head.
Director Dan Olmstead’s production uses the intimacy of the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio to make Juliana’s plight seem especially tragic and urgent. And as Juliana, Jane Ridley gives a focused and driven performance as a brainy woman trying to maintain dignity and control as her powers slip away and words begin to fail her.
Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. is genial, patient and self-assured as Ian, and Adrienne S. Wells shows off her versatility in a number of key roles, from the daughter to the doctor. Tim Dugan makes some nice contributions in a few smaller roles.
Roman Tatarowicz’s set design is dominated by a wall of screens decorated with images of DNA strands, the tools of Juliana’s trade. It’s in the play’s second half, when the lighting (by J. Dominic Chacon) reveals what’s been hidden behind that screen, that the truth starts to come to light. Mark Valenzuela’s sound mix makes discreet and effective use of sound effects.
Kudos to the exceptional cast for delivering performances that help make The Other Place so gripping and involving.
Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.
The Other Place plays through October 30, 2016, in the Independence Studio on 3 at the Walnut Street Theatre – 825 Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 982-2787, or purchase them online.