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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Intriguing Production of Sharr White's The Other Place

Also see Richard's review of The Normal Heart

The Other Place
Donald Sage Mackay and Henny Russell
The Other Place is a new mystery by Sharr White, who also wrote the gripping Annapurna. The Magic Theatre is presenting the West Coast premiere with four splendid actors in an 80-minute production.

The play centers on Juliana, a charismatic scientist in her early fifties. Juliana has a ferocious intelligence, which is both her greatest advantage and her largest burden. The audience follows her journey as she unravels a personal, ten-year mystery, sifting through disjointed facts, half-truths and cloudy memories that lead her to a Cape Cod cottage where a revelation awaits.

When we first meet Juliana, she is giving a complicated molecular biology lecture. However, she tells the audience of her true feelings ("They've flown me to St. Thomas, some private golf resort, I pretend I'm giving a lecture but really it's another sales pitch, I used to be enthralled by my new life but the blush has come off the rose."). The scene swiftly changes to the office of neuropsychiatrist Dr. Teller, where Juliana is convinced that she is suffering from brain cancer. This is proved wrong, so she is forced to begin reckoning with the real cause of her convictions.

The storytelling in Sharr White's drama is in the form of interjecting scenes with the opening monologue, similar to what has become familiar in movie making. Actors walk onto the small, three-sided stage, launching meetings in a hospital, and violent quarrels with Juliana's husband Ian, who is a renowned oncologist—and yet Juliana continues her unfocused presentation. There are a lot of conversations that go quickly into shooting matches.

I don't want to give away the complete plot of this "mystery," but there are a lot of red herrings that will keep you guessing. When finally learn exactly what what kind of lecture she is giving, we understand the full circumstances behind it.

Director Loretta Greco's fluid style gives the audience an unfocused-style drama without losing touch with the fundamental reality of events. One minor complaint is that all of the "lectures" are spoken toward the center section of the audience, and those sitting on the right and left sides have to struggle to hear some of the monologues.

Henny Russell gives an impressive performance as Juliana. She presents a sequence of astounding, often clashing versions of the multifaceted character. (In the scheduled upcoming Broadway production, Laurie Metcalf will repeat the role she played in the Off-Broadway staging.) Russell is surrounded by a top notch supporting cast, which includes local actress Carrie Paff, Donald Sage Mackay and Patrick Russell.

Carrie Paff beautifully supports in three well-crafted roles. She is perfect as the matter-of-factly authoritative, unintimidated Dr. Teller and as a properly differed Laurel; she really shines as a third character who performs an act of compassion for Juliana. Donald Sage Mackay offers great support as Ian, delicately showing us the deep tension in the supreme effort of the affectionate husband to help his trouble wife. He shows shades of authentic pain and the misperception that the character must be suffering. The confrontation between Ian and Juliana is calamitous. Patrick Russell, simply called The Man, is first-rate in multiple small roles.

The technical crew of Brando Wolcott on sound, Eric Southern on lighting, Hana Kim with videos, and Myung Hee Cho with set and costume design are flawless.

The Other Place has been extended through October 14 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-441-8822 or on line at www.magictheatre.org Coming up next will be the world premiere of Anna Ziegler "Another Way Home" opening on November 7th.


Photo: Jennifer Reiley


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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