Saturday, February 1, 2014

THE OTHER PLACE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

After a world-premiere off-Broadway in 2011 and a well-received Broadway run a couple of years later, playwright Sharr White's smartly constructed drama settles into the Rep's studio space -- an engrossing production that straps the audience in for a gripping tour of a free-fall.  My fave...

Juliana Smithton (Kate Levy) is a medical research scientist who now spends her time representing a neurological drug she helped develop. We join her as she is pitching this drug at a convention in St. Thomas. She is poised and a little cocky, but during her presentation, she is distracted by a young girl in a yellow bikini among the audience. Juliana is thrown off. Thrown off to the point where her self-possessed, assured demeanor dissolves into confusion.

Kate Levy (Juliana).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Her recollections of this presentation and the "episode" that followed are peppered among other scenes that involve testy interactions with an alienated oncologist husband (R. Ward Duffy), tense conversations with her former colleague and now son-in-law (Clark Scott Carmichael), and contentious exchanges with a neurologist (Amelia McClain). There are also scenes from "the other place", a family house on Cape Cod that was sold ten years earlier -- but this old retreat, and what happened within its walls, has a hold on Juliana's psyche that she can't explain -- an increasingly unfocused mental state that keeps the audience, as well as Juliana, a little off-balance.

Amelia McClain (the woman) and Kate Levy (Juliana).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Levy's powerful performance as Juliana anchors this show. She spans a huge range of emotions, smoothly moving through abrupt scene changes that give us everything from a beautifully painful description of the "1,000 cuts" with her physician, to heart-breaking images of a headstrong, intelligent scientist, slowly losing her grip. Strong support is provided by Duffy as Juliana's sincere and frustrated husband, Carmichael and McClain who both play various roles. Rob Ruggiero's sure-handed direction keeps the pace taut and perfectly paced.

Ward Duffy (Ian) Kate Levy (Juliana).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Luke Hegel-Cantarella's scenic design features a wall of tightly tiled pieces of wood that become disconnected, providing a nice conceptual visual tie with the play, with William Cusick and Naftali Wayne's projection design that thoughtfully adds to the play without distracting, along with John Lasiter's subtle lighting design and Fitz Patton's slick sound design.

It's a solidly packed production worth seeing for yourself.  It's at the Rep until the 9th.

Amelia McClain (the woman), Kate Levy (Juliana)
and Ward Duffy (Ian).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Sharr White 
Directed by Rob Ruggiero 
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through February 9 | tickets: $49 - $63
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Clark Scott Carmichael* (the man), R. Ward Duffy* (Ian), Kate Levy* (Juliana) and Amelia McClain* (the woman).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella; costume deign by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by Fitz Patton; projection design by William Cusick and Naftali Wayne; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit.

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