Theater review by Adam Feldman. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By Sharr White. Dir. Joe Mantello. With Laurie Metcalf, Daniel Stern. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
As a delivery agent for the ultrapowerful theatrical superdrug called Laurie Metcalf, The Other Place does its work efficiently: It is easy to swallow, and dissolves swiftly to let Metcalf straight into the audience’s blood. Side effects for some may include tension, mood swings and involuntary crying; others, especially dramaturgs, may experience headaches and/or mild nausea. In Sharr White’s psychological quasidrama, Metcalf plays Juliana Smithton, a caustic and overweeningly (apparently) self-possessed medical researcher, now on the conference circuit to hawk her treatment to fight a deadly neural mutation. Ironically, it emerges that Juliana herself suffers from a brain disorder—one that undermines her formidable intellect, if not (at first) the reflexive sense of superiority intertwined with it.
Because the unraveling of Juliana’s unreliable narration constitutes the vast bulk of this brief and slender piece, it is nearly impossible to describe what happens in The Other Place without revealing spoilers. The play is a sharply cut jigsaw puzzle of a blurry picture; although it borrows elements from the high-boulevard crowd-pleasers Wit and Proof, it lacks the specific characters and relationships that might mark it as more than theatrical manipulation. (A missing child is involved.) Director Joe Mantello gives the production a sleek varnish, and elicits capable support from Daniel Stern as Juliana’s long-suffering husband and Zoe Perry as various other women. But the attraction here is Metcalf, who exerts supreme command over the audience and rivets the play into reality against all odds. It is a breathtaking performance, but a wasted one. Why watch a world-class surgeon use her scalpel to cut from a stencil?—Adam Feldman
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