Pittsfield, Mass. – One of the many good things about Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass. is they don’t play it safe. “The Other Place,” the opening play of their summer season, is a rewarding and complicated work that demands concentration from the audience.
The play, which was on Broadway last year, tells of Juliana, a high-powered research scientist who is leading the public relations campaign for her company to market to doctors a new pill that will control and even eliminate the effects of dementia. She is a woman in control of her career even though her personal life is in shambles.
We are informed that her husband has been cheating on her and they are in the process of divorcing. Her daughter, who ran away with an older man 10 years ago at age 15, now has twins and is trying to reconnect with her mother despite her husband’s objections. Their reconciliation meeting will take place in the family’s “other place,” a cabin in Maine.
On top of all this stress, Juliana is having “episodes” that she is convinced is cancer of the brain – the type that runs in her family.
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the truth of Juliana’s life is open to question. Indeed playwright Sharr White tells the story in the form of a mystery. The use of flashbacks and the introduction of information which counters Juliana’s vision of life are devices that make us wonder about the reality of Juliana’s truth.
“The Other Place” is a story told in two movements. The first hour of the 90-minute production is told in the form of a mystery that reveals, in a compelling way, information about the characters and the situation. It is this movement that establishes the truth of Juliana’s life.
The second more intense section makes emotional the impact of this truth on Juliana and those who love and help her.
When seen as a whole it is a powerful story about how people deal with things that cannot otherwise be dealt with. It explains why sometimes we all need an “other place’ that offers comfort and security.
The role of Juliana is played by Marg Helgenberger, who is best known for her work on several TV series – the long-running “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” this year’s “Intelligence” and the classic “China Beach.”
Though understandably tentative in her opening scene, Helgenberger quickly develops a complex character who often in the same scene must play both strong and vulnerable, caustic and regretful, dominating and weak. It is a monster of a role and Helgenberger gives a brave performance that serves the character well.
She and her director Christopher Innvar make the choice to be protective of Juliana, showing her as impulsively nasty, rather than have these traits appear cruel and hurtful. However, the choice of finding the softness within the character serves the play’s ending where only the strongest will avoid tear-filled eyes.
“The Other Place” is essentially a one-woman show, but the supporting roles are critical to understanding Juliana.
Kaya Campbell plays three characters, each in a distinctive fashion. The last is as a foil to Helgenberger in an emotional climax that is the second most devastating scene in the play.
Brent Langdon plays Juliana’s husband, Ian, as having clear affection for his wife and he shows a calm demeanor that is in direct contrast to his wife’s approach to their problems.
The production serves the material so well it is easy to forgive the contrivances within the plot. Not the least of which is a woman with possible neurological problems having a husband who is an oncologist, while she also works in the field.
“The Other Place” is an exciting production. It is the kind of theater we need more of because while the story is fascinating, it is the theatricality in telling of the story that makes the experience memorable.
“The Other Place” is on the St. Germain Stage of Barrington Stage Company, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, Mass. through June 14. Performances 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Matinees at 4, Saturdays and 3 Sundays.
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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