Monday, March 23, 2015

The Other Place—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“An Awfully Big Adventure”

This drama is written by Sharr White and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space at 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is 2 blocks north of the theatre).  It runs through April 12th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

This story has some resemblance to the current film called Still Alice (starring award-winner, Julianne Moore) or the popular film, The Notebook (w/Gena Rowlands & James Garner).  It has to do with, in part, the search for identity (which, I’ve mention this before, that several of the recent plays I’ve reviewed in the past few months have similar themes to this.  Could this be a universal sign of theatres searching for their place in the collective cosmos of the world of the Arts.  Perhaps.)

Juliana (Sharonlee Mclean) is a researcher/promoter for conferences explaining the benefits of a new pill/drug that will help with memory loss.  She is currently going through a divorce from her husband, Ian (Duffy Epstein), a doctor.  But she also seems to be going through some episodes in which she is forgetting things and/or her recalling of past events may not be quite accurate.

So, she is going to a “shrink,” Dr. Teller (Nikki Weaver), to determine the truth of the matter.  She is convinced that she has a brain tumor, as it seems to run in the family.  But the reality may lead in a different direction.  She tries to find solace in her estranged daughter, Laurel (Weaver, again) and her husband Richard (Jean-Luc Boucherot), but they have their own reasons for being distant from her.  “Senior moments” are one thing but, in her case, it goes a lot deeper.

She longs to go back to “the other place,” a home they have in Cape Cod, in which she grew up.  It is, she believes, her escape from the stressful life she leads.  And, probably the oddest thing of all, she keeps seeing a “girl in a yellow bikini” at the seminars she gives.  It’s as if she’s haunting her, wanting something from her, needing to connect in some way. 

To tell more would be a spoiler and I won’t do that.  But, suffice, she does find “the other place,” sort of, and she does discover the secret to the bikinied girl or, at least, we do.  And know that we all have one in our lives and it’s just around the corner.  Intrigued?  See the play!

The plot is a bit of mystery, science, love story, magic trick and a search for meaning.  Much of it takes place on an almost bare stage and, when the set appears more permanent, that might be the biggest illusion of all.  I hope I have peaked your interest.  Myself, my attention was completely rapt in the final few moments of the play, as was the audience’s.  You could have heard a pin drop.

B. Weaver certainly has picked an enigmatic play to present.  Personally, I like a mystery/suspense in such an offering.  Hitchcock had said that the main ingredient of a story must be that the audience doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and, if you do it right, will be surprised.  This play certainly has that.  Weaver is always good at allowing the actors to be the storytellers and only using props/sets when necessary to cement the story.

Mclean, a fine actress from other productions I’ve reviewed (also a darn good singer, too) does justice to this complex and demanding role.  She must, at times, be bitingly witty, lost in thought (and dreams, perhaps?), accusatory, simpering, professional and hurting.  Quite an exhausting journey she takes us on and well traveled.  Epstein, too, a seasoned professional (I’ve even had the pleasured of sharing the stage with him some years ago) plays a man that could be seen as a villain but his portrayal is much more complicated.  As much as you may sympathize with Juliana, you learn to empathize with Ian.  Neither road easily traveled and both sojourners well suited to this rocky road traversed.

N. Weaver also shows versatility in her portrayal of a doctor, the daughter, et. al.  Well done.  And Boucherot as the son-in-law, et. al. is also effective.  The play is adult in nature so be aware.  I do recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.