The Other Place By Sharr White; Directed by Matt Heath
It’s a riddle within a riddle, The Other Place, as fascinating as a puzzle, rendered riveting by actors who are giving their all to solve it. Julianna Smithton (Ronda Lewis) and her husband, Ian Smithton (Dehron Foster), a scientist for a pharmaceutical company and an oncologist respectively, are weathering recent changes in Julianna’s personality. How playwright Sharr White lassoes time and spins it around makes it difficult to tell their story chronologically. Let’s just say that Julianna, while giving a speech to a roomful of neurologists, has an episode that brings her problems to light.
As she and Ian struggle and spar, laugh and flirt, the details of what Julianna believes and what is actually happening emerge. It takes the entire 90 minutes of the play to get to the bottom of the conundrum. And the answer is surprising, even though we think we’ve figured out.
White’s time spiral of a storyline puts us in free fall, and that uncertainty helps us experience much of what Ian and Julianna are feeling. But of course it’s down to the actors to reel us in, and they do. Lewis is word-perfect as Julianna; her presence is so confident and reassuring that at first we believe this unreliable narrator unquestioningly. She takes her character through changes in the moment, and her final scenes are indelible as she demonstrates even more profound changes. Lewis is exceptional in this protean role.
Foster as Ian captures us with his portrayal of a husband whose guiding light through the chaos is his love for his wife. He never lets her down, even as he wrestles with her false narratives and barbed observations. In Foster’s hands, Ian exudes love and support for Julianna but there is room for bewilderment and impatience as well. The actor bravely makes all of the character’s emotions available to us in a difficult role.
Supporting roles—Dr. Teller/Laurel/The Woman and The Man/Richard/Bobby—are nailed by Maria Held and Eric Werner. The two actors make these incidental but crucial characters do their jobs. It is delightful to witness their stagecraft and the traits they bring to all six characters. These two are fresh talents and I hope to see them in larger roles.
There is as much humor in the play as there is humor in our mortal predicament. I can’t give anything away, but you’ll laugh at the absurdity and familiarity of some situations. The story, though, is heartbreakingly true. Director Matt Heath really understands this play, and asks his actors for everything. He gets it.
Stage design by Thane Kenny is deceptively minimalist and works smoothly for a doctor’s office, the Smithton home, and “the other place.” Lighting design by Ray Rey Griego and the sound and projection by David Baca are beautiful. Be impressed by the work that went into this standout production in a notably impressive season at the Adobe Theater.
—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com.
The Other Place opens October 19th and runs through November 11th at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW. Friday and Saturday evenings performances start at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. General Admission $20, Discount $17 (Seniors, Students, ATG/PBS Members, Military, First Responders). PWYW Thursday, November 1st. Opening Weekend Special: All Tickets $15!
Dehron Foster as Ian and Ronda Lewis as Julianna. Photo by Ryan Dobbs.