The Other Place is a tight, witty, and powerful piece of theater. There has been an upwelling of solid straight plays on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages as of late, and The Other Place is only going to make it all the more difficult for Tony voters to pick their winners. However, Laurie Metcalf should make it considerably easier for those voters to select a winner for Leading Actress in a Play.
Metcalf [left] is stunning. Playing the role of Juliana, she commits wholeheartedly to a whirlwind of a transformation, falling from a collected, confident, and sexy career woman to a lost and weeping shadow of her former self. Bringing the audience with her on this journey of disintegration, Metcalf’s presence is commanding, breathing with a natural flow as she unravels before our eyes in a flurry of loss and regret.
Daniel Stern provides a reassuring presence, which alters in perception as Juliana’s clouded perspective is brought to light. Thusly, Stern carries a silent burden throughout the piece that is only gradually revealed, though subtly and masterfully hinted at, and he carries it well. Both Zoe Perry and John Schiappa perform a variety of supporting characters, providing a nuanced world for Metcalf to crumble in.
Director Joe Mantello is undeniably one of the greatest living stage directors working in American theater today. There is never a moment where there is a single doubt that he is in full control of his vision for the piece and confident in its execution. There is a relaxed precision in his work, allowing a comfortable structure within which his actors can move freely, absorbed in their roles, void of the pitfalls of acting. Playwright Sharr White offers a captivating story centered on a well-developed female character of dimension and range. Beneath the surface of the plot, White plays with themes idiosyncratic to the female struggle against time. Working with themes of the jealousy of youth, and fear that beauty is a word segregated for use in describing only the young (which Metcalf does well to dispel), Sharr defies the stereotype of male playwrights who cannot write solid female characters (cough, cough...Mamet). His dialog is intelligent and quick, folding honest comic moments into the play's most devastating scenes, resonating with reality.
One can only hope that Sharr White has more plays to offer us in the future, but for the time being we have The Other Place, and it is a play that should be seen. Intimate, compelling, and thoroughly human, this is the stuff that good theater is made of. - C. Jefferson Thom
The Other Place opened January 10 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West. 47th St., New York, NY.
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.