Theatre review: 'The Other Place' takes audience on collision course

For the News-DemocratJanuary 27, 2014 

Featuring affecting performances, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' engrossing Studio production of "The Other Place" is a scalding look at a brilliant woman's descent into dementia, as we witness the unraveling of her personal and professional life.

Acclaimed director Rob Ruggiero allows the agonizing details to slowly unfold as the lines blur between her reality and delusions. The progression in 75 minutes is heartbreaking, as Sharr White's intense, tightly constructed play reveals the devastating toll such an affliction takes on families. White's first Broadway show is marked by keen insight and an interesting, fragmented style that keeps you off-guard.

Juliana Smithton, a 52-year-old research scientist, is convinced she has a brain tumor after an unsettling incident during a work presentation. The irony is while she's promoting a groundbreaking drug to treat neurological disorders, she shows signs of losing her grasp on reality. As her oncologist husband Ian becomes increasingly exasperated by her erratic, combative behavior -- and a disconcerting cruel streak, the audience learns of a past traumatic incident in their life.

The dramatic tension heightens, forcing the Smithtons to come to grips with what is actually happening. When all of it pieces together, the impact is potent -- and haunting.

The 4-person cast is uniformly strong, anchored by a bravura performance by Kate Levy as the frosty, guarded, wounded Juliana, whose torment is gut-wrenching. The commanding performance by Ward Duffy, last seen as the upwardly mobile doctor in "Good People," as her perplexed mate, helps you see past her fa(*141*)ade. In support are Clark Scott Carmichael in multiple roles as The Man, and an impressive Amelia McClain in several roles as The Woman, particularly engaging as a stranger thrown into the Smithtons' turmoil by accident.

The demands of the Juliana character are considerable -- on stage the entire time, and dealing with emotions on a collision course. But Levy manages to shade every layer, from polished public speaker to fragile, scared, bereft wife and mother. Simple Band-Aids won't do. Ruggiero's confident, fluid staging in telling this complex tale further adds to his impeccable reputation (His "Take Me Out" at The Rep's Off-Ramp remains the finest drama staged in St. Louis in the past decade, and his musical prowess is sensational, as seen in "South Pacific" at The Muny last summer and in Sondheim's sublime "Sunday in the Park with George" at The Rep in 2012).

The Rep's production values are top shelf. The sleek set, designed by Luke Hegel-Cantarella, functions well in the intimate space, while John Lasiter's lighting enhances the situations, with excellent sound work from designer Fitz Patton. William Cusick and Naftali Wayne provided seamless projection design.

I saw "The Other Place" on Broadway last winter, with Edwardsville's three-time Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf reprising her Obie-Award-winning role as Juliana, a riveting, fierce portrayal that earned her a Tony nomination last spring. The Manhattan Theatre Club's version was a powerful, searing, vivid contemporary drama, and The Rep's production loses nothing in translation.

"The Other Place"

Who: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Where: Emerson Studio Theatre, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, Mo.

When: through Feb. 9

Tickets: 314-968-4925

Go to www.repstl.org for schedule and ticket prices.

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