The Other Place

by Colleen Cottet

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 23, 2015

Autumn Teague and LiaAutumn Teague and Lia D. Mortensen D. Mortensen
Autumn Teague and LiaAutumn Teague and Lia D. Mortensen D. Mortensen  (Source:Michael Brosilow)

There may be few things more terrifying than the prospect of the loss of one's mental faculties. Physical disabilities can be amended or adapted to, but what resources can be rallied when disease or trauma damages one's mind, and one's own perceptions are not to be trusted?

In the Chicago premiere of "The Other Place" by Sharr White, Profiles Theatre brings an excellent production that unblinkingly examines one woman's struggle with a mysterious health crisis that threatens to change her ability to discern reality from fiction, even as her reality fills with the collateral damage of her broken relationships.

"The Other Place" received its world premiere off-Broadway in 2011, starring Laurie Metcalf. It received critical acclaim and multiple awards nominations before moving to Broadway in 2013, where it garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress for Metcalf.

The play follows Juliana Smithton (Lia D. Mortensen), a noted neurologist working on the development and sales of a revolutionary new drug. She attends conferences plugging her research, an intriguing combination of competence and barely veiled sarcasm. Her personal life, we discover, is coming apart at the seams, despite the fact that "according to the numbers, I'm happy."

Juliana's success is clouded by the crumbling of her relationships. Her marriage to oncologist husband Ian (Steve Silver) is failing. She endured a falling out with professional colleague Richard (Matt Maxwell). Most significantly, she is estranged from her grown daughter Laurel (Autumn Teague), who eloped with the much older Richard.

While attending a sales conference, Juliana reaches out to Laurel, beginning a tenuous attempt to bridge the gulf between them. Juliana longs to rebuild her relationship with her daughter, and meet the grandchildren that she has yet to see. She pushes for a reunion at "the other place," her vacation home in Cape Cod where she and Laurel last spoke, face to face.

Fate intervenes while at the conference, when Juliana experiences a health crisis. It is an episode that forces her to seek the medical advice of Ian, who refers her to Dr. Teller (Nina O'Keefe). But what is the true nature of the relationship between Ian and Dr. Teller? And why has Laurel chosen now to re-enter Juliana's life, after so many years away? And what is the relevance of the other place to Juliana's past, and to the relationships that she seeks now to rebuild?

As the action progresses, the mysteries of Juliana's relationships and her illness becomes clearer to the audience, while they cloud further and further for her. We feel her anger and resentment keenly, and more so as they give way to her increasing confusion and to the anguish that lies beneath the surface, mostly keenly when the true nature of her estrangement from her daughter is revealed.

At one point, Juliana tells Dr. Teller of a fable where a prisoner is sentenced to death "by a thousand cuts." He is wrapped in tourniquets and his appendages are sliced away, one by one, left alive just enough to experience indescribable pain over and over again. And "that," Juliana says, "is what it's like to lose your child."

White's writing for "The Other Place" is as gripping as it is spare (running time of "The Other Place" is 80 minutes with no intermission). Director Joe Jahraus has brought together a remarkable ensemble to breathe life into White's lean work. Mortensen, in particular, is excellent as Juliana, running a gamut of emotions as her journey unfolds and leaving the audience breathless as the light fall once her future becomes clear to us all.

Kudos to the technical and design staff as well for cleverly utilizing Profiles' small space using set, projections, and sound to accentuate the confusion that Juliana experiences as her faculties fail her. Combining these elements with heartfelt writing and honest performances, "The Other Place" is a standout, and not to be missed.

"The Other Place" runs through April 5 at Profiles Theatre, 4139 N Broadway in Chicago. For information or tickets, call 773-549-1815 or visit www.profilestheatre.org

Colleen Cottet is a freelance writer and playwright, having written for such diverse publications as American Teen, Veterinary Technician, and the Journal of Ordinary Thought. Her work has been performed at the Chicago Park District and About Women. She resides in Chicago.