Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Other Place at Ensemble Theatre

Tantalizing, excruciating, and poignant

     Sharr White’s The Other Place (2010) directed by D. Lynn Meyers has a story that cannot be discussed in very much detail because it will ruin the audience member’s experience knowing too much ahead of time.  This is an adult play featuring an emotional/medical issue that has to be worked out through language.  It’s somewhat reminiscent in
tone and texture of Next to Normal and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Audiences need to be patient because the first third is trickily constructed with what seem to be shards of scenes that don’t make much narrative sense.   After some information is revealed, the plot (and background story) begins to adhere.  

Regina Pugh*

     Although ‘the other place’ is both physical and metaphorical, the play examines ‘the other’ in close personal relationships.  In this instance, someone who is intelligent, organized, and driven may also be vitriolic, disturbing, and paranoid.  Regina Pugh gives a tremendous performance as Juliana.  Pugh has not appeared much lately, but when she does, I feel as if I’m discovering her anew in each production.  Michael G. Bath matches her at each juncture as the reasonable and stable Ian.  It’s some of his best work.  Kelly Mengelkoch and Billy Chace lend strong support.  

Regina Pugh and Kelly Mengelkoch*
     Where things get rough is when the play turns from being funny and angry to an emerging clinical case study.  A character morphs from being larger than life to a collection of behaviors that require examination and a sense of detection on the part of the audience.  White’s elegant use of language elevates a couple of confrontations that feel as if they might explode, especially one very painful flashback.  There is a scene late in the play where two characters eat Chinese take-out together.  It’s beautifully written, acted, lit, and directed.  I wish the play had ended there.  It would have re-established the plot as something akin to a poem.  However, the play goes on for about eight more minutes that muddy up what we think we’ve understood, leaving questions of information that were unnecessary.  It’s difficult with a work that has been previously produced successfully to say, ‘this needs to be cut,’ but it would be stronger if it had been.

Brian c. Mehring's Set Design and Lighting*
     Brian c. Mehring always raises the aesthetic stakes in a way that leaves me believing I couldn’t have seen a better setting and lighting for a production anywhere else, whether it would be Chicago, Off-Broadway, or London.  Fitz Patton’s sound design is both subtle and eerie.

*photos by Randy Kurtz

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