It is at this point in the review that I would give a capsule plot summary, to provide some context to those of you who are reading this who haven’t had the opportunity to see the show. I’m not sure how to go about doing that here, as The Other Place is the type of brilliantly constructed play where divulging even the smallest of details may be tantamount to giving spoilers. Fishell plays Julianna. She is a woman of extreme intelligence; a real ball buster. She is a rep for a pharmaceutical company giving a presentation to a room full of doctors. In the middle of her speech she sees a young woman in a yellow bikini, whom she assumes to be a stripper provided by the pharmaceutical company to entertain the doctors they hope will purchase the drug she’s selling. During her speech the play jumps to other scenes and interactions; Julianna at home with her husband Ian (Kevyn Morrow, below), or in an appointment with her doctor (Leah Walsh, who plays several different characters). Julianna speaks ceaselessly about “The Other Place,” a home she and her husband own, or at least maybe used to own, aside from the house where they live.
As the play goes on we learn the young woman in the yellow bikini is not what she appears to be, and neither is anything else.
VSC’s Artistic Director, Chris Hanna, has directed the play briskly (it clocks in at an intermissionless 80 minutes) in a coldly clinical production full of odd patterns and disjointed lines. It is his best work since VSC’s Red a few seasons ago. The scenic design by Tim Mackabee is stunningly simple, in cold whites and grays. In a dazzling coup de theatre, it beautifully illustrates the play’s themes of memory and reality and the gray area in between. When we finally see “The Other Place,” it appears first as a ghostly apparition, then suddenly comes into sharp focus. M.L. Geiger’s lighting design works beautifully with Shawn Duan’s projection design to create a bizarre narrative that jump cuts from location to location and time to time with disorienting clarity.
The performances of the small cast are all excellent. Morrow is dazzling as Julianna’s husband Ian, a brilliant oncologist in the midst of leaving Julianna for another woman, maybe. Walsh and local actor David Meadows, credited in the program as The Woman and The Man, play several different characters with an easy delineation between them. But the anchor of the show is Julianna; and Fishell commands the stage for the entire eighty minutes, easily jumping from the middle of one scene into the middle of the next and back again. It is no small feat for an actor, but Fishell makes it look easy. She is an incredible performer: committed, and focused. Her performance in The Other Place will easily stand as the best performance of the year in the Norfolk theater season.
The script of The Other Place, by Sharr White, is the real star of the show. It is brilliantly constructed; breathless and disorienting. It is the kind of play that when it’s over you want to watch it again to make sure that everything you saw conforms to the rules of what you know when the play is over. Because in The Other Place nothing is what it seems. And what you know, or what you think you know, may not be what you know at all.
Virginia Stage Company has marketed this season as “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I’ve been a bit mystified by this, as only their season opener, the mountain climbing drama K2, really fits this bill. Their second production of the season, The Book Club Play, was so safe they may as well have handed the audience members life jackets on their way in. The Other Place, the third production of their season, may not be an adventure either; but it’s anything but safe.
I hope to have the opportunity to see this production again before it closes. I don’t usually advocate that people absolutely have to go see something. But this time, I am going to beg you, plead with you on my hands and knees. Don’t miss this show!! Reserve your tickets today, and see it soon. You may want the opportunity to see it a second time to see for yourself whether things really make sense in this fabulous play where nothing is real and everything is real; and Julie Fishell is breaking her heart night after night in the type of performance we rarely get to see on local stages.
Misty watercolor memories of the way we were? The Other Place is a production of Virginia Stage Company. It is currently running at the historic Wells Theatre in downtown Norfolk through February 8th. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon. Tickets are $10-$55, and can be purchased at the Wells Theatre box office, or through Virginia Stage Company’s website.