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1/11/13

The Other Place - Well, Aren't You A Polished Little Thing?!

Ahh, the dreaded words I uttered to myself after I saw the conclusion of the The Other Place, now open at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

"I need to see this again."

Why are they dreaded? First off, tickets don't come cheap y'all - it's not like a DVD you bought that you can watch six or ten more times at your convenience for no additional cost. But more importantly, the dilemma I am facing between liking and loving The Other Place is that a repeat visit seems almost necessary to confirm exactly that...did I merely just like it or did I love it? What about after a second viewing? Let's talk this out, like a family...

The Other Place is an unusual show for Broadway. I say that because...well, of several Broadway shows I have seen that look like movie concepts repurposed and blocked for a live audience, that is ESPECIALLY true here. Talking it over with my BFF Courtney, she nailed it when she said this show, which follows a "not as mentally cognizant as she appears" Juliana as she seeks therapy for an episode she had on the job - was akin to an "indie suspense-drama." Normally, I am inclined to consider that a bad thing, but under Joe Mantello's direction, Sharr White's book and Laurie Metcalf's lead performance, the show is too meticulously crafted to ever echo a rejected movie script trying to find life on stage.

You can usually count of Mantello to churn out fully-realized and fulfilling shows and that is no exception here. His fast pace results in an under-80 minute run time and yet, he navigates Jackson's book for all it's worth. It really was a masterclass in how he lures in the audience and intrigues us with the unknown, a similar feat he pulled off in last year's Other Desert Cities.

All the while, White's story offers plenty of darkly comedic exchanges and gut-wrenching emotion, complete with all the twists a good suspense-drama has. What initially looks like script errors - given that Juliana is spiraling out-of-control, confusing stories, people, ages and genders along the way - was actually White keeping the audience on their toes. On countless occasions, my train of thought was, "what the...did I hear that correctly? Was that intentional?...Oh, I think I get it." You need to follow the story closely - slackers and the easily lost won't hold up well - but anytime an author plays up the intelligence and the focus of the audience to notice even the smallest of details is a welcome sight. The last scene of the show actually had me gasp audibly as it wrapped up, leaving the aforementioned tantalization of a repeat visit to determine whether or not the show was as cleverly written as I thought or if it was messily unearned. Writing it out now, I am convinced it is the former.

Taking center stage as the audience is let in and never once leaving is Laurie Metcalf, playing Juliana and giving a nuanced performance perfectly complimenting The Other Place's creative. She only plays one character, but it's one that wears many hats as she slips further and further into the land of crazy - capped off with her eating chinese food on the floor of her former Cape Cod estate (the location the title is referring to, that Juliana often mentions). Her best scenes are when she is acting opposite her real-life daughter, a solid Zoe Perry playing multiple roles, because obviously - they have chemistry and it translates well into the scene dictates.

It's really a relief that The Other Place, upon reflection, is made up of a lot of great aspects - if I see it again in the future, it wouldn't be to validate the ambivalence I initially felt towards it. It would be because I found it a genuinely engaging show and I am open to liking it even more. As the first Broadway show to open in 2013, major kudos for kicking off the year right.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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