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Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

The Other Place
Falcon Theatre
Review by Rick Pender | Season Schedule

Also see Rick's review of Vietgone

Anna Hazard, Elizabeth Durham, and David Levy
Photo by Claudia Hershner
If you like theatre that takes you in one direction and then turns your head around by slowly revealing pieces of information that fill in gaps and change your perceptions, then Sharr White's The Other Place, now at Falcon Theatre, is something you should plan to attend.

Falcon's tiny stage doesn't give you much to go on: a chair, a stool, a moveable counter with a coffeemaker. Ted Weil's stage lighting provides a few clues for scene changes or the eruption of a starkly different mood, but otherwise it's almost entirely on the actors to tell us a story, bit by revelatory and direction-changing bit. Piper N. Davis has carefully orchestrated this drip, drip, drip of clues to build a narrative that offers a solution to a mystery that begins at a sunny professional conference at a St. Thomas resort.

Juliana Smithson (Elizabeth Durham) is an accomplished biophysicist who now works in pharmaceutical sales, and she's delivering a sales pitch to physicians for a dementia treatment drug she has developed. She sounds competent and intelligent, but suddenly she's distracted by a woman in a yellow bikini who wanders into her presentation. The hallucinatory invasion proves to be the catalyst for an episode that leaves her groping for words and coherent thoughts. She is convinced that she has brain cancer.

Next we find her antagonistically sparring with a persistent physician (Anna Hazard) during an intake interview over answers to mundane questions. Juliana is defensive about the tiniest details of her episode and even quarrels about her last name, which leads her to suggest that her husband has filed for divorce.

Then we jump to a morning conversation with Ian (David Levy), her oncologist husband. He's trying to get her moving to keep a medical consultation with another medical professional, a neurobiologist, with whom Juliana accuses him of having an affair. She berates him for his unwillingness to talk about Laurel. Their conversation is pockmarked with her angry outbursts and his frustration and deep anguish.

We witness a strange, tense telephone conversation exchange with her estranged daughter Laurel (also played by Hazard) in which they tentatively agree to meet after a decade of non-communication. Rather than filling in details toward an understandable narrative, we begin to doubt our own perceptions of what's going on, putting us in a position not unlike Juliana's own seemingly confused and deteriorating grasp on reality.

The 90-minute play takes us on a painful journey of revelation, including a visit to "the other place," Juliana and Ian's former summer home on Cape Cod. It's also a poignant metaphor for the retreat that Juliana hearkens back to. With more and more sad revelations, we realize that she is a very unreliable narrator and, in fact, the victim of some extremely regrettable past personal behavior.

Durham handles the arduous role of Juliana with skill and emotional range. She is on stage and the focal point of action from start to finish, swinging manically from polished professionalism to befuddled angst and back to false confidence and self-justification. Levy's portrait of Ian is laced with anguish and regret as he tries, caringly, to point her in the direction of an honest diagnosis of her plight. Ian might be at least partially culpable for the story's precipitating moment, but he's certainly not the guilty party. Durham's Juliana is the story's engine, the victim of ironic circumstances that are beyond her control, despite some powerful guilt woven into her condition.

Hazard does a good job of differentiating three distinct female characters: the physician, daughter Laurel, and a bemused subsequent owner of the Cape Code cottage. In one of those roles, the sensitive handling of Juliana's fragile state is an especially touching scene, one that made me wonder whether most people could act with such equanimity in a similar situation. Ben Dudley contributes several underwritten male roles (Laurel's husband, a past research assistant, and a hospital aide) that seem rather unnecessary, even though one represents a red herring in Juliana's false narrative.

The Other Place is a story shrouded in misdirection that ultimately clears. It's a fascinating piece of writing that takes the audience down a path of confusion that's quite parallel to Juliana's own difficult eventual understanding of what has happened to her. Sharr White's sharp writing and careful plotting, navigated crisply by Piper Davis's directorial hand, make The Other Place a fine concluding production for Falcon Theatre's 2023-2024 season.

The Other Place runs through May 18, 2024, at Falcon Theatre, 638 Monmouth Street, Newport KY. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-479-6783.