In Margaret Edson’s Wit, a John Donne professor is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, the point being that a woman who has studied literary death for years is now experiencing the real thing. Sharr White’s The Other Place works along the same lines: Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a brilliant neurologist, but when her life begins to fall apart—her husband, Ian (Daniel Stern) files for divorce, and her daughter (Zoe Perry) refuses to speak with her—we suspect that things aren’t quite what they seem, or at least what they seem to Juliana. An expert in the field of dementia, she begins to suffer from the very disease she has spent her life trying to cure.
The Other Place, a one-act that runs for about seventy minutes, is a perfectly acceptable piece of theater. Scenic designer Eugene Lee has created a wonderful backdrop, a series of cold, modern, interlaid squares that appropriately reflect the scientific mind of the play’s protagonist. And Ms. Metcalf does an admirable job with Juliana, embodying her intelligence, her charm, and her proud struggle against admitting that something has happened to her most precious organ. There is a nice scene, during a medical conference, in which she berates a woman she assumes to be a prostitute: “I see we have a guest with us today in a lovely string bikini—Miss, are you are doctor or are you just here to show someone where it hurts?” Sharpening her claws, she continues, “Now I’m going to make this next part quick so everyone please sit up. Except you, String Bikini, it looks like all you need to work on today is somebody’s diction.” It is only when it is too late, when everybody has had their cruel laughs, that she realizes the woman might have a relative suffering from the disease—explaining her presence at the conference—and we realize that she is some sort of hallucination, a projection of Juliana’s estranged daughter.
Still, The Other Place doesn’t have the holding power of a play like Wit; we are largely told about Juliana’s intelligence and rarely get to see it ourselves. For a work that deals with such a heavy subject, it doesn’t have much weight. Walking out of the theater, I had the sense that I would entirely forget The Other Place within the week.