In a literal sense, the title of “The Other Place” refers to the summer beach house where Juliana (Marla Brown) was happy, until her teenage daughter Laurel disappeared years ago.
In a metaphoric sense, it refers to the uncharted terrain her brain visits when early-onset Alzheimer’s disease begins to rob her of her identity as a neurologist and wife to oncologist Ian (Jeff Johnson).
“Not being myself is, oddly, who I am,” she says, half-wryly, in a rare moment of lucidity. Eventually, all places will be “other” to her, at a point she’ll reach sometime after the play stops.
Author Sharr White, who developed the piece with dramaturg Matt Olin, can’t send us away with hope: Though Juliana takes a drug that may retard the progress of the disease, she can’t prevent the collapse of her neural system.
White simply charts her voyage into these treacherous waters and the effect she has on people around her. Frances Bendert plays most of them, including teenaged Laurel in a flashback and the now-grown Laurel – who may be a delusion created by Juliana – in the present. Jeffrey Woodard has a few quiet moments as the men Juliana meets or dreams up along the way.
The play jumps around in time, which can be disorienting: Ian seems ragingly sick of his role as caretaker in an early scene, calm and comforting in a later moment. (Perhaps he becomes more tender as his wife becomes more needy.)
Arranging the episodes doesn’t matter, because Juliana will spend the rest of her life veering from clarity to confusion. Nor will we get our questions answered: We’re not going to find out what happened to Laurel and the older guy who (perhaps) took her virginity. Director Michael Simmons, liberated from the need to worry about narrative clarity, arouses our pity and interest through the moods of the piece.
The cast does its job, with Johnston and Bendert making lightly sketched characters credible. Brown acts too rarely, now that she’s running Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius; her last big role was an equally harrowing part in “Wit,” as another intelligent, outspoken, doomed woman (who dies of cancer). She nails such parts, but perhaps a musical comedy is in order.
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