Science, mystery and domestic drama converge brilliantly in Profiles Theatre’s intensely moving The Other Place. Juliana is a neuroscientist whose life is in a tailspin—her relationship with her husband is strained, she’s estranged from her daughter, and her health is questionable. Being the smartest woman in the room—in every room—is the one thing she can rely on. Or is it?
As The Other Place moves back and forth in time, we start to realize that everything isn’t what it seems. That, tragically, the disease Juliana has spent her career researching is, in fact, causing her own decline. And while Juliana grapples with her own reality, the audience is left wondering which threads of the story they should believe. What pieces of Juliana’s life are true? What parts of the story are affected by her dementia or are simply events her brain has tricked her into believing? Sharr White has created a script that forces the audience into the labyrinth of Juliana’s mind in a way that elicits frustration, empathy and understanding.
Lia D. Mortensen is a force to be reckoned with as Dr. Juliana Smithton and deftly brings this tough, vulnerable, maddening and resilient character to life. In a role that has the potential to distance the audience, Mortensen reels the viewer in and keeps them engaged for a completely riveting 80 minutes.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Steve Silver perfectly embodies the struggles of Juliana’s husband and caretaker, Ian Smithton. Autumn Teague is fine in her early scene as Juliana’s daughter but truly shines in later moments when the pieces of the puzzle start coming together.
One of the challenges for a small space like Profiles Theatre’s Mainstage manifests when a script requires multiple locations. The Other Place moves from a lecture hall to a hotel room to a doctor’s office to a beach home and more. While it’s tempting to create discrete spaces for each location, so much stuff in such a small performance venue is visually noisy, which is exactly what happens with Keenan Minogue’s scenic design. Oddly placed furniture and a wrinkled white curtain do nothing to serve the story. Though the idea of a kabuki drop is interesting, the big reveal of what is hiding behind it is underwhelming. Maybe it’s a case of the execution more that the design or perhaps the problem lies in trying to bring the drama into the set when, really, there’s more than enough excitement in the script itself.
The other design elements are quite good, however. Smooch Medina’s projections are mesmerizing, and Raquel Adorno’s costumes perfectly complement the characters throughout their journeys.
Of course, The Other Place isn’t the sort of play that needs fancy effects to make an impression. With outstanding performances and an evocative script, it’s a show that stays will you long after you leave the theater. Images on stage and images painted only with characters’ words all work together to create something that is remarkable and memorable. The Other Place does what good theater should always do—it makes us think and it makes us feel, an extraordinary feat indeed.
The Other Place runs at Profiles Theatre through April 5, 2015.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
George Infantado, Steve Silver and Lia D. Mortenson in The Other Place, playing at Profiles Theatre (photo by Michael Brosilow).