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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Other Place
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Always Plenty of Light at the Starlight All-Night Diner, The Seafarer and The Barricade Boys

Garnet Harding, Debra Rich, and Zoe Uhrich
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Sharr White's The Other Place is a thought-provoking and at times riveting exploration of memory, identity, and the intricate complexities of the human mind. Theatre Artists Studio's production features a stellar performance by Debra Rich in this carefully constructed puzzle of a play that allows the audience to piece together the fragments of one woman's life while skillfully blending drama and mystery into an emotionally resonating journey.

The play, which premiered in 2011, is one that's best to know as little about it as possible before seeing it, so I'll do my best to avoid revealing any major spoilers. The plot focuses on Juliana Smithton, a brilliant, 52-year-old, neurologist who has an "episode" in which she becomes confused while giving a presentation at a conference. Since several members of her family all died early from cancer and since she's having difficulty finding the right words to say, Juliana believes that she has brain cancer. The narrative shifts back and forth in time as revelations about Juliana's past and present gradually come into focus and the truths of her life are discovered.

With characters and dialogue that are both symbolic and intriguing, White's play is a fantastic journey through the unraveling reality of one woman's life. The non-linear storytelling blurs the lines between perception and truth, which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats trying to discover the facts about Juliana's life. The narrative complexity of the piece makes it intriguing while the themes the play touches upon, including how fragile our memories can be, the impact of personal trauma and pains in our past, and the elusive nature of the truth, make the play profound and impactful. While there are several painful scenes, there is also a sense of cathartic release and rediscovery in the final moments that helps to give a sense of closure and emotional resonance to White's drama.

Debra Rich's portrayal of Juliana is exceptional. Her performance is infused with nuance and emotion, capturing the intricate layers of the character, from the confident and commanding neurologist to the vulnerable and disoriented woman struggling to find the exact words she wants to say and to rediscover the truths of her life as reality unravels around her. The emotional depth Rich brings to the role is intense, heartbreaking, and so realistic that it will draw you into Juliana's world with empathy and authenticity.

In the supporting cast, Garnet Harding presents a natural portrayal of Juliana's husband Ian who is suffering the pain of her illness. Zoe Uhrich plays several roles, including Juliana's doctor and her estranged daughter. There is a scene late in the play that Uhrich shares with Rich that is heartbreaking due to the strength of their performances and Uhrich's compassionate portrayal of the character. Christopher Dorto rounds out the cast in two smaller roles.

Tom Noga's direction is sensitive, with well-paced scenes that allow the audience to remain engaged and the tension to build effectively into several explosive moments. This is a play where the tone shifts frequently and the direction balances the moments of heartbreak and revelation with those that are more humorous and tender, creating an emotional journey full of realistic layers and beats. Noga's set design uses a few pieces of furniture to quickly depict the various locations and tilted, empty, large picture frames on the walls to portray the confused, uncertain, and lost memories of Juliana. While most of the staging makes good use of the spare set, there are a few scenes where occasionally only the backs of the cast are to the audience seated on either side of the stage, which could be better staged.

The Other Place at Theatre Artists Studio is a beautiful and moving, but also at times painful, contemplation on the human experience. It will most likely find you reflecting on your own perceptions of reality, the stories we tell ourselves in order to cope with unfortunate incidents of the past, and the painful truth that life is short and we never truly know what tomorrow will bring.

The Other Place runs through February 4, 2024, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-765-0120

Director/Scenic and Sound Design: Tom Noga
Technical Coordinator/Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Props: Marilyn Linde and Cast
Costumes: Cast
Stage Manager: Marilyn Griswold-Linde

Juliana Smithton: Debra Rich
Ian Smithton: Garnet Harding
Dr. Teller/Laurel/woman: Zoe Uhrich
Richard/Bobbie: Christopher Dorto