PITTSFIELD -- Juliana Smithton, the central character in Sharr White’s "The Other Place," is a woman who would appear to have it all.
As played by Marg Helgenberger in the solidly crafted production "The Other Place" is being given at Barrington Stage Company’s intimate St. Germain Stage, she seems, at first, to be firmly in command; firm, confident, self-possessed, with a dry wit that she uses with a master surgeon’s precision; a talent she has developed to help her survive in an "Old Boy" world, she says; a setting in which women are not taken seriously.
"In spite of everything that’s happened," the successful 52-year-old research neurologist tells us, "when I add on the balance sheet of my life the numbers say I am happy."
What’s happened is that her life is in disarray. She is trying to repair the breach in her relationship with her daughter, Laurel, who disappeared as a teen and who now, inexplicably and out of the blue, has dropped back into Juliana’s life -- married to a man 15 years older who had a checkered history with Juliana and her oncologist husband, Ian (Brent Langdon), and the mother of two girls. In addition, Ian is getting ready to divorce her. Even more worrisome, as Juliana addresses an "Old Boy" convention of doctors at a golf resort in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands -- pitching them an exciting protein therapy which she discovered and holds the original patent and which has the promise of a being a major breakthrough in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s -- she is distracted by the sight of a young woman in a yellow string bikini who has slipped into a seat in the lecture room only to, minutes later, simply vanish as mysteriously as she had appeared.
An episode, Juliana calls it. It’s the first; a signal that something is at work in her brain. She’s convinced it’s a brain tumor. But Ian and a doctor (Katya Campbell in the least persuasive of the three roles she plays here) to whom he brings her suspect something else is going on.
In a variety of ways, "The Other Place" is a memory play. It is about the memories that shape our lives; memories that offer, amid some pain and discomfort, relief and safety when the world is too much with us. It is about the dynamics of the mind and the ways in which it restructures, redefines reality, recreating a present and future that satisfy a need for resolution, finality, without which we face a void, a field of uncertainty that is troubling and unnerving.
"The Other Place" is a memory play, literally, in the sense that it is structural core is a narrative -- Juliana’s story looking back on an arduous year-long journey. Clear, articulate, well-ordered, Julianna’s narrative jumps in time, as one memory triggers another, bringing her forward, wrenching her back or sideways. Time and perspective shift and, in a masterstroke of subtlety and sleight-of-hand, point of view does as well.
The play’s ingeniously devised title finds meaning on several levels. Literally, it is the phrase Juliana uses to refer to her family’s house in Cape Cod to which she returns near the end of the play and where she finally comes face to face with her demons and the truth of her situation.
Helgenberger crafts a gutsy, courageous, meticulously calibrated performance that clearly traces the ride this bright, intelligent witty woman takes over the course of the play’s intermissionless 80 minutes to the point that she maintains the momentum of White’s play even when White doesn’t.
In a smartly modulated performance, Langdon keeps pace step by step as Ian, who appears devoted to Juliana in ways that go beyond the expectations we have of him based on Juliana’s remarks.
Indeed, at its heart, "The Other Place" is a love story -- husband-wife, parent-child -- and what happens when our love is pushed to the limit, if not beyond. It’s about the commitments we make in the name of love, the responsibilities we assume. It’s about the strategies we devise in order to survive betrayal and loss and just how deep into the other place we sometimes have to go in order to come out whole on the other side.
THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White. Directed by Christopher Innvar; scenic and projection designer, Brian Prather; costume designer, Kristina Sneshkoff; lighting designer, Scott Pinkney; original music and sound designer, Anthony Mattana. Through June 14. Eves.: 7:30 Tue.-Sat. Mats.: 4 Sat.; 3 Sun.; additional matinee 4 June 12. Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield. Tickets: $40 and up. (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org. 1 hour 20 minutes
Juliana Marg Helgenberger
The Woman Katya Campbell
Ian Brent Langdon
The Man Adam Donshik