Directed by Steven Pounders
Stage Manager – Sarah Salazar
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design – John Leach
Costume Design – Sarah Tonemah
Sound Design – David H.M. Lambert
Properties Design – Dana Cassling
Julienne Greer – Julianna
Bill Jenkins – Ian
Meg Shideler – The Woman
Curtis Raymond Shideler – The Man
Reviewed Performance 5/8/2014
Reviewed by Michala Perreault, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Intense dissonant piano music, at once peaceful yet borderline psycho, welcomes the audience to a bare stage, weathered, wood-plank set with two tables and two non-adjacent chairs. Four discreet hooks for three coats and a sweater take us from tropical paradise to bustling city to wintry beachhead, across a family’s decade punctuated by tragedy. Brilliantly designed lighting, skillfully conceived music and breathtaking acting birth the rest of the The Other Place, in our imagination.
Dr Julianna Smithton is a woman on the edge. A brilliant, ambitious, successful neuroscientist on the edge of birthing her life's work – a protein– based cure for dementia – to colossal commercial success; on the edge of losing her marriage, her mind and her life to what she hopes is brain cancer but turns out to be the very demon her brilliant discovery is designed to cure.
Julienne Greer ignites the landscape of Julianna’s character with an opening rude joke – a joke designed to slap the entirely male audience attending her multi-media presentation that launches the commercial viability of her latest and very lucrative discovery. She gets the laugh she desires, then, momentarily distracted by an obviously out of place attendee, launches directly into the science behind the breakthrough.
At 52 Julianna appears a hard woman who has jealously guarded her intellect and intellectual property against the perceived boys club of medical superiority. Her self-absorbed professional drive has alienated her daughter, her husband; she has never seen her twin granddaughters. And now, she moans, not only is her husband leaving her for another woman, he’s insisting she – she – see a psychiatrist.
Ms. Greer navigates deftly as Julianna weaves from professional to personal, from “perfect” mother to abandoned wife; Greer walks that delicate line with command and pathos between the proud, confident scientist intellectually affronted by the lesser mind and patronizing stance of the female psychiatrist and the veiled insecurity before the one whom she is quite sure has stolen her husband’s attention. We laugh at the jokes, smile and applaud Julianna’s toughness and drive, and clutch our hearts as Greer brings us the resistant pain of abandonment. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
As Sharr White’s tender yet direct script weaves us back and forth through time and place, Greer opens Julianna to us with deeply poignant skill. It would have been adequate to portray the strong, distant, professional woman who eventually meets her fall, but Greer doesn’t stop there. Every nuance of emotion, from joy to pain, triumph to resignation, unfolds for us via Greer’s heart. She is intensely connected to Julianna yet brings the character’s message without overstepping her. Julianna’s defensive posture grows deeper – edgier – with each exchange, and Greer builds it delicately, patiently, and we experience it in the “real time” of Julianna. Greer envelops Julianna and the audience without us even noticing. And in the end, we grieve.
As we know, there is another side to every story. Enter Bill Jenkins as Ian, the as far as we know, errant, infidel husband. But something doesn’t quite add up. Jenkins brings us an Ian who is tender toward Julianna but not solicitous; patient and caring even when she spurns him for his crime, even brims tears at the mention of daughter Laurel. But as tender as he is with Julianna, Ian never apologizes. He seems to want reconciliation, but doesn’t apologize? Then with calm, patient strength, Bill Jenkins reveals Ian to us. With a startling breadth and depth of gentle yet unwavering love, Jenkins is the Ian who has never stopped loving and admiring his brilliant and beautiful wife, who has balanced the demands of his own career without compromising support of hers, who yet grieves with her over their daughter. And through Jenkins we meet the Ian who yes, desperately wants his wife back – but it is not he who has strayed.
Meg Shideler is pithy, funny, sullen and brilliantly versatile in her portrayals of The Woman, the younger psychiatrist, a passerby, daughter Laurel at 15 and 25, and most poignantly, the initially confused young woman who enters her beach house on the Cape to find an intruder sitting at the kitchen table who appears to be expecting her. Shideler and Greer portray the delicate dance of discovery in an initial standoff that slowly evolves into abiding compassion for the other’s position. Shideler could have jumped from indignancy to awareness in what might have been a mere mechanism role. Instead, she allows understanding to unfold reluctantly, cautiously, milking the awkwardness of the moment until we the audience squirm in sympathetic discomfort. Shideler makes sure we don’t like her character at first. When Ian arrives minutes later, Shideler, with delicate and tender realization, brings us The Woman who grows as well through the very real pain of her uninvited guest.
Curtis Raymond Shideler brings intensity and compassion to his various spot roles as The Man, most notably as Richard, Julianna’s former postdoctoral research assistant. Shideler balances the opposing forces of fear and tepid strength with an inner power that rises to the brink: the veins rise in Shideler’s neck and his brow twitches at his shame for the offense he dealt his mentor and fear of Laurel’s wrath for trying to mend. Shideler jousts with Greer’s Julianna pushing to get her way, his own Richard attempting to stand ground, elevating to the edge of hysteria that isn’t quite real – and later we learn why.
Sarah Tonemah’s concise costume design exemplifies the characters and allows the actors to morph seamlessly between locales and time periods: a simple bone linen suit and lab coat speak volumes of Julianna, likewise the moment she nonchalantly sheds the jacket for a shapeless, tattersall sweater says, “The Other Place”. Simple shifts in hairstyle, from tightly twisted to loosely flowing, complete Meg Shideler’s metamorphosis from physician to neighbor; when Ian enters in Mackinaw and umbrella, no dialogue needed to say “it’s raining.”
Clare Floyd DeVries’ perfectly Zen set invites us from St Thomas to bustling city to windswept Cape Cod – The Other Place – where ten years prior a blissful family came to grief. The barren, grey-weathered wood plank set, skillfully and intuitively lit by designer John Leach, transports us subliminally from high-tech city to sterile hospital to white-gray sand anchored by tufts of sea grass, an edgy wind, dismal ambiance.
David L. M. Lambert’s brilliant use of sound fills in all the other colors: Laurel is never seen at The Other Place for instance, but felt and heard most loudly via the heavy durge of Mahler, which she cranks up to barricade herself from her parents. The delicate elements of ambience – soft sea breeze, distant roll of waves, audience chuckles in lecture – all complete the depth of Director Steven Pounders’ magnificently powerful telling of this poignant tale.
"Y'know what surprises me is how – cruel – this thing has made you." Ian chokes out these words in sadness, powerlessness, The Other Place shows us the helpless pain of Neuron Death – the Great Darkness. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, been mystified by the insurmountable unfairness of life, or simply love being swept away by brilliantly personal and poignant theatre, don’t miss it.
THE OTHER PLACE
230 West Fourth St
Fort Worth TX 76102
Runs through May 24th.
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday – Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $20.00 – $35.00, with discounts for seniors and students. Group rates are also available.
***Online, use code FLYER FOR $5 off any full-priced admission.
Student Rush: half price at half hour before showtime.
Circle Theatre offers Complimentary Valet Parking.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.CircleTheatre.com or call their box office at 817-877-3040.