Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review of "The Other Place" - Theaterworks, Hartford

In the beginning of The Other Place, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through April 19th, we are introduced to Dr. Juliana Smithton, as she speaks to a hotel ballroom full of doctors on the isle of St. Thomas.  A renowned researcher she is extolling a wonder drug she has developed that may help stem dementia.   The next moment the scene shifts and she is being interviewed in a doctor’s office on the mainland describing, in fits and starts, what she calls an “episode” she had on the U.S. Territory.  At first, we are not sure if this refers to a medical issue or something else.  In fact, during the course of this sparkling production reality itself is called into question.  Throughout the show we are fed clues, given bits of information and occasionally led astray into what is occurring in the professional and personal life of Dr. Smithton. 

There is a lot more I could say about the plot of The Other Place, but that would be unfair to audiences waiting to see the production.  The mystery, the unraveling that unfolds during the play would be sacrificed with any more details.  Let it suffice that the show, penned by Sharr White, is well-written, cleverly structured, and extremely well-acted.  The female lead, a captivating Kate Levy, is on stage for just about the entire 80 minutes of the intermission-less show, giving one of the best performances of the year in Connecticut theater.  She is at times annoying, vulnerable, abusive, and sorrowful.  It all adds up to a powerful portrayal of an individual in free fall, trying desperately to make sense of it all.

The other cast members are equally satisfying in their roles.  R. Ward Duffy, as husband Ian Smithton, at first, is a slight enigma.  Is he an uncaring, unfeeling spouse or are we being kept in the dark about his true intentions?  Duffy displays a wide range of emotions as he confronts, copes, and addresses his partner’s condition.  Amelia McClain, playing three other female characters in the production, gives each enough shading for a different personality to ring true.   Most of the time her role can be viewed as the set-up person for Levy’s histrionics.  Clark Scott Carmichael, rounding out the quartet of players, is fine in his portrayal of three minor roles.

Writer Sharr White has crafted a compelling and forceful drama that pulls no punches.  On the minimally designed set the intensity and passion of the script is almost nakedly apparent.  By keeping the audience off-center for most of the show he is able to both ruminate on a topical issue so prevalent in today’s society as well as keep our interest.  Not an easy undertaking to accomplish and to accomplish well.  

Director Rob Ruggiero’s greatest strength is his handling of the small cast, especially Kate Levy.  Since she is on stage for much of the production her believability is essential.  That the two craftsmen, director and actor, succeed is no small feat.  While the emotional intensity eventually becomes more heightened, Ruggiero’s overall approach is more low-key, allowing the intensity of the show to rumble beneath the surface before bubbling to the top.  Through quick scene cuts the audience is kept off-balance, which magnifies the storyline.

The Other Place, another superb production by Theaterworks, playing through April 19th in Hartford.

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