By Lucy Komisar
Sharr White‘s play is a wrenching psychological mystery where the audience is kept in the dark until slowly clues emerge. Joe Mantello directs coolly and subtly so you see everything through the eyes of the protagonist until you don‘t.
Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a medical scientist, 52. At doctors‘ conference in St. Thomas, she is pitching a new miracle drug that will clear the plaque in the brain that causes dementia.
Lights play over a gray steel structure behind her. It is almost like a sculpture in the shape of piled up windows and frames and it becomes a video screen to display the chromosomes she is discussing. (Set is by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce.)
She wears a chic tight black suit and 4-inch heels. As she talks her eyes peer over the audience of male suits to focus on a provocative young woman, or maybe a girl, in a yellow bikini.
Back at her hotel room, she talks on the phone with Richard (John Schiappa), her son-in-law; in the background her daughter (Zoe Perry, Metcalf‘s real-life daughter) curses at her. We learn that the daughter is 25 and that Richard is 15 years older.
The scene shifts back and forth from the stage where she is speaking, to the hotel room, and suddenly to a doctor‘s office where she is being diagnosed.
She thinks she has brain cancer. She tells the doctor (Perry) that her husband (Bill Pullman), has been playing around and has left her. She accuses the doctor of putting down marks against her in the notes she is taking.
White makes you feel as if you are inside Juliana‘s head, experiencing what she sees and feels — the girl in the bikini, her daughter screaming at her, her husband leaving her. Pullman is powerful as her husband, his anguish showing through a face that reddens in his distress.
But her erratic behavior begins to make you wonder. Her husband seems caring and affectionate. Now, you look at events from another perspective.
We learn that her daughter had run away from home at 15 after her mother ordered her out, accusing her of sleeping with Richard, one of her students, who was their guest at a Cape Cod vacation house.
Metcalf is brilliant. In the scene at the Cape Cod house where she goes to search for her daughter, her face seems puffy, her eyes are tired and her frail body curls up in a frightened position. She is unrecognizable from her first cool appearance.
She is at “the other place,” which has a double meaning, this house and the clouded world she is living in. We learn the mystery of what transpired and its relationship to an illness and the drug she is pitching. Quite an original and fascinating production.
“The Other Place.” Written by Sharr White; directed by Joe Mantello. Manhattan Theatre Club at Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York City. Opened Jan 10, 2013; closes March 3, 2013. 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400. 2/21/13. See review on New York Theatre-Wire.