I have been racking my brain to know what to say about this play. On the one hand, I commend the playwright and The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater for tackling the difficult topic of dementia. On the other hand, I found myself underwhelmed by this play that addresses the topic: "The Other Place" by Sharr White. Part of my dilemma in not knowing what to say about this play is that the play and the writer have garnered a number of awards, so clearly there have been others that have seen things in the play that I either did not see or did not appreciate in the same way.
The plot involves a brilliant research scientist who has been working on a drug to attack the plaque in the brain that causes premature dementia. As she makes the rounds of medical meetings selling her new drug, Dr. Smithton experiences a medical "episode." Her knowledge of family medical history causes her to self-diagnose it as a brain tumor, when it is fact the first clear evidence of early onset of dementia at age 52. The rest of the play shows her wrestling with increasing paranoia towards her oncologist husband whom she images is divorcing her. She wrestles, as well, with vivid hallucinations, mostly involving her daughter who ran away from home as a teenager and never returned. She dreams of returning to her safe haven - their vacation home on Cape Cod that she terms "The Other Place."
Debra Wise, Artistic Director of Underground Railway Theater, plays the role of neurologist Juliana Smithton. Ms. Wise soldiers on bravely, displaying the range of emotions that the playwright has provided her character from a limited palette - anger, paranoia, sarcasm and confusion.
The character of her husband, Ian, is played by David DeBeck. He also does his best with a character that has been written as not much more than three or four shades of gray.
Angie Jepson plays three roles - the daughter, Laurel, Dr. Cindy Teller, and a woman who inhabits the Cape Cod home that used to be Juliana's "Other Place.". These three characters were not very well differentiated - in the writing or in the acting.
Rounding out the cast is Jaime Carrillo, who also plays a trio of small roles.
There are several pivotal moments in the play that should have evoked a deep emotional response in me as an audience member. I found myself in the same situation as the character Morales in "A Chorus Line": I felt nothing. I found this to be strange, since this is an issue that hits close to home; several family members have dealt with dementia. I should have been touched, but was not. To be fair, at the curtain call, several members of the audience rose in ovation, so clearly the play reached some of us. I wish that emotionally, I had not been in "another place" and unable to be moved in the same way.
The play clearly has value, and has been cast with true professionals. Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, it is worth seeing for anyone who wants help in addressing the issue of what it may be like to have a family member who is afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer's.
THE OTHER PLACE
September 12 - October 6, 2013
by Sharr White
Produced by The Nora
Central Square Theater website