Challenges abound in The Other Place at Dayton Theatre Guild


The cast of The Other Place (L-R) Mark Sharp, Kayla Graham, Amy Askins, and
Jamie McQuinn

By Jacqui Theobald

Complexity can come in short pieces, such as Sharr White’s The Other Place, now at The Dayton Theatre Guild. It only takes 80 minutes to create a multilayered four-actor play, directed by Kathy Mola, that seems to include more characters, more perspectives and more questions than answers.

Carrying the heaviest load is Amy Askins, as Juliana, who serves as both Narrator addressing the audience directly and protagonist. “I am on stage for the entire play,” she said. It is a challenge she meets in every way.

She plays Juliana, an extremely intelligent woman, a 52-year old scientist, crisply presenting her research to a group of peers at a conference in St. Thomas,
Virgin Islands.

Switching in an instant she becomes jealous, accusatory, angry and sarcastic in a scene with a psychiatrist, one of several parts played by Kayla Graham.

Juliana’s husband Ian, also a doctor, is portrayed by Jamie McQuinn in a role including feelings of exasperation, discomfort, fear and understanding.

Mark Sharp plays a number of other supporting roles efficiently with appropriately different characterizations. He is the overworked husband of the imagined Laurel or a precise caregiver later. 

It quickly becomes clear that something is not right for Juliana, emotionally and mentally. She is certain she has brain cancer but has worked hard to hide her problems. We do not hear a diagnosis.

We do learn the couple has lost a daughter. Or have they? Is she really all right, the mother of young twins, heard crying, never seen? When Juliana is again reminded daughter Laurel has disappeared, she replies, “Bullshit.”

Director Kathy Mola said, “We worked our butts off. I like the focus on self-identity, loss and forgiveness. It is haunting drama with dark comedic tones and the timing is crucial.”

Askins calls Juliana ”A juicy role for an actress. She’s a powerful woman and an unreliable narrator. Who do you trust?” She confided that along with many other challenges, learning to handle the scientific words and phrases smoothly was not as easy as she makes it look.

From the beginning there are frequent references to the girl in the yellow bikini even at the scientific conference. We don’t know why she addresses this unseen character with so much cruelty and anger but along with Juliana we acknowledge it.

As the play proceeds, her disconnection from reality increases. She wants to go to the other place, a home she and Ian once owned on Cape Cod. “We sold that house ten years ago after Laurel disappeared,” he tells her.

To indicate subsequent time the action moves to the raised stage across the short end of the three-quarter Guild theatre. The action previously has been on the audience level long space. She exchanges her suit jacket for a sweater and enters the other place.

A young woman, obviously the new owner, fends her off with an umbrella, a one-sided fencing match. When the neediness of the unwanted guest becomes apparent, the young owner, also played by Graham, has a sweet, empathic, kind expression and begins to take care of her, feeding her Chinese food she’s carried out for herself.

Commenting after the play amid audience compliments, Graham laughingly shared Mola’s concern about her ability to handle chopsticks. She did, admirably.

Askins is so thoroughly convincing, both as the self-assured narrator and as the deteriorating Juliana that she owns this role. Her variety of facial and body reactions, sometimes subtle, some highly energized are totally believable.

McQuinn brings a sense of stability and a reality-based spirit from beginning to finale. He develops and demonstrates understandable emotions as the story’s truth
becomes apparent.

The set is skeletonic, stark, and suggests fences and barriers may be a factor. The always creative Chris Harmon is the Set Designer. He has draped wired snow or sand fencing, turned and twisted to frame the stage wide projection screen, useful in several ways. First it is straightforward for information during the scientific presentation. Later it is more scene setting, and finally for brief photographs;
Rachel Mola was the model.

It is enhanced by the mood setting Lighting Design of Tim Guth with technician
Scott Wright.

Barbara Jorgensen, who can do anything and has done everything at The Theatre Guild, handled costumes for this show. The black suit Askins wears is stunning; a
perfect match.

Sharr White was a 43-year-old businessman who spent his spare time typing away on plays, mostly in obscurity. Eventually he had some regional success. In 2010 his challenging creation, The Other Place gained an Off-Broadway site and won a nomination for the Outer Critics Circle Award. Laurie Metcalf won similar recognition for her performance, called by one critic “scarily intense.” The same may be said for Askins. The play made its Broadway debut in 2012 and played through March 2013.

Director Mola shared how difficult it was to get the rights to present here. “It took us several years to work it out,” she said, “but we’re glad we did.”

Jovan Terrell, Stage Manager; Dierdre Bray Root, Producer and Props as well as cast and crew are intent on not revealing the final resolution. If you figure it out, consider that this is more layered, subtle and elusive than similar stories told chronologically.

If you enjoy a bit of a puzzle and a challenge, you will like this too.

The Other Place will be performed for two more weekends at The Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Avenue. Visit daytontheatreguild.org or call 937-278-5993 for showtimes and ticket information.

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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