Review: The Other Place

The Other Place Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

This is a play about dementia. Some people might accuse me of “spoiling” with that statement, but theme trumps plot in The Other Place – what is said in this play is of infinitely greater importance than the way it is said, and I don’t think it hurts anything to announce the subject up front. Playwright Sharr Whitehas some truly thoughtful and insightful things to say about dementia, he’s not merely using it as a clever plot device. White is indeed a masterful craftsperson, but he’s put his craft in service of saying something intelligent and moving about the human condition, and that’s something more like art.

Laurie Metcalf portrays Juliana Smithton, a brilliant neurologist employed by a pharmaceutical firm, whose life we see slip from her iron grasp. The Other Place is first and foremost a smart and deeply humane meditation on dementia, but it also not-so-coincidentally is a real tour de force for the actress playing Juliana. Metcalf is one of the great American actresses of her generation, and her richly layered performance in The Other Place is the best proof of that we’ve yet had on the New York stage.

Dementia challenges what makes us human and what makes us unique individuals more than almost any other mental condition, and White has quite correctly not provided any tidy answers for this incredibly messy situation. Are Juliana’s mental difficulties caused by a cruel emotional double-bind she experienced in her life, or are they the random result of the DNA-protein-folding she herself is an expert in? Never fully answered, and quite rightly, too. This is deep, probing stuff, no movie-of-the-week. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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