The Other Place
Also see Richard's review of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
It can catch us while we think we're looking our best, but somehow slightly unaware: not realizing our own dirty laundry's strewn all around in the background, for all to see. Or we may find out that, if the light is just right, we somehow look just like horror star Peter Cushing. And not the young Peter Cushing, either.
Likewise, there's a wonderfully exposed quality to this production of Sharr White's very modern drama about a proud genetic engineer with an inherited brain disease. But the cure she's working on remains just beyond her grasp. And, as she's reaching for it, she goes tumbling down to ruin. Right into something bordering on madness and barely aware that her own past and future are out to get her.
Actress Kate Levy and director Rob Ruggiero build a performance that ultimately towers over us all, creating a story of a haunted house and a haunted mind. In their hands, the story of Juliana Smithton also becomes a sort of post-post-feminist tale, set to the familiar music of humanity rediscovered.
R. Ward Duffy is equally fascinating as her husband, and the two of them maintain a level of strange mystery throughout, as one seemingly rock-solid illusion after another simply gives way.
There are a lot of super-pretty, futuristic animations to spruce-up a few non-threatening explanations of her genetic research, but this Dr. Smithton never seems upstaged by her own creation, in this uber-modern version of Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory. She's not "mad" like Peter Cushing, of course. But the effects are not dissimilar: her own ambition and pride create some weird images, and weirder monsters, throughout her decline, as she tries to break a generational curse. But if Dr. Smithton is a 21st century mad scientist, her own "villagers" with torches and pick-axes may only be the shadows of competing reality and madness battling around her, as her disease runs its course.
Amelia McClain is full of surprises as a series of young women on stage, and Clark Scott Carmichael does well with the young male roles. But it's Ms. Levy who occupies the center all along, shining brightest when all seems lost.
Through February 9, 2014, at the studio theater in the Loretto-Hilton building, 130 Edgar Rd., on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit www.repstl.org.
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.