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Two Strong Works at Park Square Theatre
Shooting Star and The Other Place

Also see Arthur's review of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play

Park Square Theatre currently has two excellent plays on the boards, Shooting Star on their Proscenium Stage and The Other Place on the Boss Stage. While vary different in tone—Shooting Star, by Steven Dietz, is a romantic comedy, but one with something on its mind, while Sharr White's The Other Place is a collage of mental fragments, a kind of who-thought-it mystery—they have much in common. Each features one of the Twin Cities premier actors giving a tour-de-force performance. That would be Linda Kelsey in The Other Place, and the omnipresent Sally Wingert in Shooting Star. It is fair to say that both are good plays, made very good by their lead players. And both deal with the question of memory: what is real about the things we remember?

Shooting Star

Sally Wingert and Mark Benninghofen
Shooting Star takes place in a mid-American airport waiting area where a blizzard has stranded travelers, including Elena Carson (Wingert) and Reed McAllister (Mark Benninghofen, matching Wingert toe for toe). Twenty-five years earlier these two were living together as a couple in Madison, Wisconsin. The term soulmates is mentioned. Back in the day they lived by progressive values, including their views on monogamy and fidelity. Together they claimed they would never submit to working for "the system," making decisions based on material gain, or—in Reed's case—having to wear a necktie.

Time can be unkind to our youthful proclamations. Reed has in fact landed in a neck-tie wearing career, married and with a child. He is travelling to make a sales pitch. Elena has managed to maintain the values framed in Madison (along with the wardrobe), remains unmarried, and is travelling to attend a friend's "cleansing ceremony." However, as these two re-connect—awkwardly at first, then with greater speed—we learn that things are not quite as they seem ... now, or in the past. Elena and Reed not only catch up on who the other has become, but on who they were. They thought they remembered their salad says clearly, but learn otherwise. Each was a shooting star in the other's life—a thing of beauty passing brightly by, before burning out. Playwright White's achievement is in prompting us to want to know if those stars can rekindle, to shine brightly once again.

Aside from a window into the fallibility of even the clearest memories, the play, from start to finish, is loaded with great humor, both imbedded in character, affectionately playing on each of the character's stereotype, and refreshingly original laugh lines. Wingert, especially, is a pro at dishing out zingers, while maintaining her own aura of vulnerability. I laughed throughout, but never stopped thinking either—an uncommon combination.

Sally Wingert delivers another of her peerless performances, giving Elena a brash, lusty persona that cannot fully mask the inner disappointments life has dealt her. Her laugh alone is worth the price of admission. Mark Benninghofen's portrayal of Reed reveals an awareness that his life has veered from his beliefs, but that he needs to maintain the structure he has created in order to bear his responsibilities to his family, and maintain his own self-respect.

Leah Cooper has directed this two-hander with great attention to the rekindling of relationship, accelerating as their time together wanes. The only miss is that there seemed to be no one else in what must be a crowded terminal. How might a crowded space with scarce seating have affected their interaction? Kit Mayer's design has perfectly caught the anomie of an airport waiting room, greatly abetted by Anita Kelling's sound design, complete with irritatingly sing-song announcements. Mary Beth Gagner has dressed Elena to affirm her hold on both the values and fashion of her youth.

The Other Place

James A Williams and Linda Kelsey
On the new Boss Stage, Sharr White's The Other Place is a very different type of play. Linda Kelsey is Juliana Smithson, a brilliant and brittle neurobiologist who is beginning to lose her mental capacities. Is it a brain tumor, as she suspects, or early onset dementia? We meet Juliana giving a sales pitch, cloaked as a scientific lecture, for a new medication her research team has patented. In the course of the lecture, her mind flashes to thoughts of her husband, whom she suspects of infidelity, her daughter, and other jagged edges of her life.

Juliana is seen in interview with a neurologist trying to unravel the nature of her mental decline; in phone conversations with her daughter and son-in-law, whom her daughter married after running away from home fifteen years earlier; and with her oncologist husband Ian, who alternates between saintly patience and despair as he witnesses his life-partner's mental decline. Juliana's fondest memories are of their time at "the other place" of the title, which is their cottage on Cape Cod. It has long been in their family, and seems to be the lone remaining warm spot in Juliana's heart. She wishes to give the other place to their daughter, but we learn that there are reasons this cannot occur.

As her mental capacities slip away, Julianna grasps to keep a hold on what is real, constructing her own memories when she cannot remember true ones. The more we see of Juliana, the more we question which of her perceptions and memories are true. Are any of them true? At the same time, she seems to be losing the ability to be kind, to have empathy for anyone in her orbit. Kelsey creates a vivid portrait of a mortally wounded person, raging against the facts. She is impossible to like, though we wonder ... was she always thus? Ian, played by James A Williams with keen realization of the roller coaster of feelings and direct attacks he endures, must be able to remember her as a much better person, more generous and gentle.

Finally, the kindness of a stranger she encounters when she tries to return to the other place holds up a mirror to Juliana and allows her to see herself as she is, to recognize that the truth is very different than she remembers. It is a heartbreaking moment, played with tenderness by Kelsey, Williams, and Joy Dolo (as the stranger, and as well as the daughter and the neurologist). Matt Wall attentively playing the son-in-law, and a nursing attendant, completes the cast.

It is Linda Kelsey, however, who commands our attention as Juliana. On stage for the play's entirety, she is an emotional train wreck, masked behind her quick and steely wit. She ricochets from past to present, from truth to fiction, from false-hope to despair, desperately calculating to make sense of it all. She is hard to admire, neigh impossible to like, but still irresistible.

Adit Kapil's direction is razor sharp, moving with light speed from Juliana's crisply delivered lecture to all the other real, imagined, and misguided corners of her mind and back again. By giving Juliana a high degree of authority at the onset, and gradually revealing the fissures in her mind, a level of suspense hangs over the play, even as the inevitable outcome becomes clear. The Other Place plays well on the Boss' thrust stage, and the subdued set, costume, and lighting design all serve the production well, not drawing focus away from the puzzle that is Juliana's mind.

Shooting Star continues at Park Square Theatre on the Proscenium Stage through April 19, 2015, 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $48.00 68.00; under age 30, $29.00; seniors (62+) $5.00 discount; military $10.00 discount. Rush tickets $24.00 day of performance. A $2.00 facility fee will be added to each ticket. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to

Writer: Steven Dietz; Director: Leah Cooper; Scenic Designer: Kit Mayer; Costume Designer: Mary Beth Gagner; Lighting Designer: Michael P. KIttel; Sound Designer: Anita Kelling; Properties Designer: Sarah Holmberg; Stage Manager: Wayne Hendricks.

Cast: Mark Benninghofen (Reed McAllister), Sally Wingert (Elena Carson).

The Other Place continues at Park Square Theatre's Boss Stage through April 19, 2015. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $48.00 68.00; under age 30, $29.00; seniors (62+) $5.00 discount; military $10.00 discount. Rush tickets $24.00 day of performance. A $2.00 facility fee will be added to each ticket. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to

Writer: Sharr White; Director: Adit Kapil; Assistant Director: Addie Gorlin; Scenic Design and Projections: Kristin Ellert; Costume Design: Kathy Kohl; Lighting Design: Michael P. KIttel; Sound Design: C Andrew Mayer; Property Design: Sadie Ward; Stage Manager: Megan Fae Dougherty.

Cast: Joy Dolo (The Woman), Linda Kelsey (Juliana), Matt Wall (The Man), James A Williams (Ian)

Photo: Petronella J. Ytsma

- Arthur Dorman

Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region

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