Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Other Place

Playwright:   Sharr White
Venue:  The Dairy Center for the Arts,  Boulder Colorado
Running Time:  85 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Thursday, April 4, 2013

We all believe that we are operating in a shared, structured world.  Reality is, well, "real."  It's fixed, constant, inflexible.  Or so we believe.
Unfortunately, this belief is sometimes wrong.  It can be valid 98% of the time, but there are those rare and disturbing times when "reality" as we know it utterly fails us.  
Reality, ironically, is actually personal, subjective, and pliable.  We define it with tiny electrical charges and chemical reactions in our brains, and then filter the results through our personal experiences.  The truth is that sometimes the electrical charges and chemical reactions run amok, distorting our "reality."  That distortion and loss of reality is at the core of The Other Place.  
The story is told by Dr. Juliana Smithton (Rachel Fowler), who is obviously a brilliant biophysicist who works as a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company.  As the show opens, she is lecturing a group of doctors who have traveled to the Virgin Islands to hear her pitch the revolutionary new drug the company has developed.  The new drug, ironically, is designed to treat the disease she is developing before our eyes. 
She's smart, sassy, focused, and professional, but she has an "episode" and becomes disoriented during her Power Point presentation.  As we soon learn, she is losing her grip on her memories, her faculties, and her family.  
Erica Young, Josh Hartwell, Rachel Fowler
Rachel Fowler's performance is intense, moving gracefully from an intelligent professional woman to a confused, angry victim of episodic dementia.  It would be an understatement to say Fowler does this well; her performance is inspired, convincing, and acutely personal.  She connects with the audience in a way that makes us suffer the confusion, the frustration, and the anger with her.  We cannot help but be drawn into the frightening "reality" she inhabits.
Josh Hartwell is magnificent as Smithton's husband; he is at times loving and supportive of his wife, and at times frustrated and angry with her.  He's a reluctant but devoted caregiver, but he's also an oncologist, utterly unable to do what he is trained to do:  treat and cure his patient.  Hartwell plays the role with a perfect mix of the husband, doctor, caregiver, father personas that the script requires.
Erica Young plays multiple roles, which actually advances the story by giving Julianna's confusion some plausible context.  Young moves seamlessly from character to character.  Pay attention to her portrayal of a woman who comes home to find a stranger in her house.  Young delicately mixes the surprise, the fear, and the sensitivity of the character in a way that is both appropriate and credible.
The Other Place literally takes us out of our comfort zone, to "the other place," where memories and reality are not what they seem.  It's a disturbing detour from that comfort zone, and a must see theater experience.  The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) has three hits in a row by my count, How the World Began and Ghost Writer being the other two.  If you haven't seen something at BETC this season, you have missed what may be the best productions on the front range this year.  

This show runs through April 7, 2013. A few vulgarities may offend some, but this play is otherwise suitable for teens and up.  However, the subject is disturbing, especially if a loved one has suffered Alzheimer's or other dementia.  

Playwright Sharr Wright is a graduate of Fairview High School, which is less than 5 miles from the Dairy Center where his work is making its Regional Premiere.

Director:  Penny Walrath Cole
Scenic Design:  Christopher M. Waller
Sound Design:  Andrew Metzroth
Lighting Design:  Steven McDonald
Costume Design:  Charlotte Ballard

Dr. Juliana Smithton:  Rachel Fowler
Dr. Ian Smithton:  Josh Hartwell
The Woman:  Erica Young
The Man:  Benaiah Anderson

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