By Philip Pearce
THE OTHER PLACE, which launched PacRep’s 2016 season last weekend, offers a relentless and compelling picture of the mental collapse of a brilliant woman.
Fifty-year-old Juliana seems almost frighteningly collected and assured when we first meet her pitching a new drug developed by the pharmaceutical firm she works for. Her complicated slide presentation seems flawlessly coherent until she becomes aware of a girl in a yellow bikini disturbingly seated in the middle of her predictable audience of doctors at a weekend conference in the Virgin Islands.
As the presentation continues, the yellow bikini girl becomes more and more of a distracting obsession. And there are quick, disturbing cuts from the conference platform to earlier conversations with Boston associates at work and her troubled oncologist husband Ian, encounters which begin to make cracks in Juliana’s professional aplomb. Why does Ian doubt that his wife is really having phone calls to and from their runaway daughter? Why is Juliana convinced all the confusion and conflict will be settled by a visit to the Other Place, the Cape Cod cottage they once loved but then reluctantly sold?
Sharr White’s script offers no letup in its detailed analysis of this woman’s struggle to defend deeply held delusions against chilling doses of reality from her spouse, her medics and, finally, a startled stranger. The script plants you so firmly in the mind of the tormented Juliana that her hallucinations begin to seem more real and convincing than the drab facts that gradually peel them away.
That’s enough about the plot of this fascinating medical mystery story.
As Juliana, Julie Hughett is magnificent. The role is nothing if not complex, both in its range of emotion from cool control to groveling surrender and in the subtle ways White lets us learn what’s happening inside Juliana. Sometimes she reveals herself by what she says to and does with others, sometimes speaking directly to us in the audience. The script doesn’t tidily frame or signal these quick shifts in point of view. They can happen partway through a speech or even halfway through a sentence. Hughett, by some magic of understanding and sympathy, projects the emotion of the moment and yet never leaves a doubt as to whether she is addressing us or someone else on stage. It’s a piece of brilliant bravura acting that earned cheers and a standing ovation on opening night.
Three other talents give her impressive support. Jackson Davis is a strong Ian, as troubled and terrified as his determined and hysterical wife. Maryssa Wanlass and Garland Thompson, billed only as The Woman and The Man, give perceptive life to other characters, medical and personal, who figure significantly in Juliana’s story.
It’s a compact, unrelenting 85 minutes of intense drama. And it’s hard to imagine a better produced or more powerfully acted production now on view in our area.
It’s also slated for a comparatively short run, ending May 29th. It would be a shame and a loss to miss it.
Hughett photo by Stephen Moorer