Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
In director Dan Olmstead's production it is clear from very early on that Juliana is an unreliable narrator. The audience knows her version of events is not quite right, but we must wait to find out exactly how her perception differs from reality. Does she have brain cancer or is there something else going on? Why is Juliana's seemingly affable husband divorcing her? And what happened between Juliana and her estranged daughter? The experience is more of a slow and steady coming into focus rather than a series of dramatic plot twists, but it is well paced and captivating throughout.
Author Sharr White does not dwell in the sense of sadness and loss often associated with dementia, instead focusing on the frustration Juliana experiences as she tries to seek treatment for her illness and interact with her loved ones. Juliana is refreshingly manipulative and abrasive rather than pitiful. The scenes between Juliana and exasperated husband Ian (Johnnie Hobbs, Jr, gives an excellent performance) are absolutely captivating. Their interactions are moving without being bogged down by sentimentality and their relationship has a striking authenticity. Adrienne S. Wells and Tim Dugan are responsible for all of the other roles in the play. The confusion this causes is no doubt intentional, but it is also a little distracting.
There are a few other issues as well. The play would likely function better as a suspense drama and emotional experience if Juliana's mental problems were not obvious so early on. There would be more room for her to evolve and greater impact when she does. I was also left with questions about some of the unusual symptoms Juliana displays, which seem atypical.
Regardless of these issues, Walnut Street's current production is a fast paced and thoroughly engrossing evening of theater. The Other Place runs through October 30, 2016, in Walnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia. For tickets visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
* Denotes membership in Actors' Equity Association, the professional union of Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.