Laurie Metcalf commands the stage in ‘The Other Place’

By John Soltes

Laurie Metcalf’s performance in The Other Place, currently playing the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York City, makes the otherwise drab play a must-see event of the spring season. The Broadway veteran who’s still best known for her work on the television sitcom, Roseanne, commands the stage as Juliana Smithton, a pharmaceutical researcher whose mind is becoming increasingly fractured.

Watching Juliana piece together the current difficulties of her life, everything from her pending divorce to the whereabouts of her estranged daughter, we soon realize that all is not what it seems. Even though Juliana champions the technology of new medicine and pharmaceutical research in her business lectures, the woman is slowly becoming undone, and there appears to be no drugs or therapy to help her with the descent. Her commonly-believed truths suddenly feel as flimsy as a flag in the middle of a hurricane.

Sharr White wrote the 75-minute piece, and although there are glimmers of palpable drama, the proceedings jump around far too much. If it were not for Metcalf’s anchoring performance, The Other Place would feel lost in its own complexity. The supporting characters, played by Dennis Boutsikaris, Aya Cash and John Schiappa, work double-time (and sometimes triple-time) to keep up with the plot. Much credit should be given to director Joe Mantello for staging the one-act in a digestible manner.

The play, which is the second offering in MCC Theater’s season, will likely be remembered less for its words, and much more for its central performance. Metcalf is the reason to see The Other Place. With her physical ticks and violent outbursts, the actress creates a modern portrait of a woman losing her mind. It never feels like Lifetime-Original-Series fodder. This is a real, visceral performance, and it ought to be cherished.

The Other Place

A production of MCC Theater

Directed by Joe Mantello

Written by Sharr White

Starring Laurie Metcalf, Dennis Boutsikaris, Aya Cash and John Schiappa

Playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre at 121 Christopher St. in New York City (through May 1, 2011)

Click here for more information.

Running time: 75 minutes

Bubble score: 3 out of 4

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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