Two years ago, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, “The Other Place,” a searing study of Alzheimer’s, by Sharr White, directed by Joe Mantello, captivated us. This 90-minute drama won an Obie award and a nomination for Outstanding Off Broadway play from the Outer Critics Circle. In this new Manhattan Theatre Club production at Broadway’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Laurie Metcalf stars again as Juliana Smithson; a brilliant research scientist. This attractive 52-year-old woman is representing a drug company and is at a conference in St. Thomas to lecture doctors on a new drug designed for people with neurological problems.
At first, Juliana seems completely in charge as she describes what is going on; then suddenly she spies a young blond woman in a yellow bikini among the many men in the audience and becomes obsessed with her. From there is it all down hill. She collapses, has an “episode” and is rushed home to a hospital. She is convinced she has brain cancer, insistant that her daughter who disappeared years ago is communicating with her, convinced that her husband, Ian, is divorcing her and having an affair with her new doctor. All those things are not true.
Her preposterous and deteriorating behavior drives her husband, Ian, a psychologist, to distraction and despair. The fine actor Dennis Butsakaris played the role at the Lucille Lortel. Here, Daniel Stern gives a powerfully heartbreaking performance which almost eclipses Metcalf's wonderful portrait of someone falling apart piece by piece without any control. Zoe Perry, Laurie Metcalf's real-life daughter, depicts three women: the imagined daughter, the doctor, and a woman who owns “the other place,” the home Juliana and Ian lived in many years before on Cape Cod. This is a challenge, because the scene in the Cape Cod home, to which Juliana returns like a lost cat, is the weakest. It is also confusing because Perry looks like the runaway daughter. John Schiappa takes on several roles, as well.
“The Other Place” adds important insights about this terrible disease, but is not as well- developed as it could be as fully realized play. Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce's set, a cage of interlocking squares, lit interestingly by Justin Townsend with swirling Video & Production Design by William Cusick, lends texture to the production. It will play only through February 24.