Powerful vibrancy to Weston Playhouse’s lean ‘Other Place’

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While Weston Playhouse’s Main Stage provides a space for lavish music and dance productions, its Other Stage concentrates on honing small gems in bare-bones productions. The emphasis at the Other Stage is on character and intimate playing, and its current production The Other Place offers a host of riches.

Playwright Sharr White has crafted a brief, heart-wrenching evening out of painful tragedy. As the play delves deeper into its main character, the audience becomes aware that what is real and what is not real is not always discernible, and we witness the unraveling of mind, memory and emotion.

Juliana Smithton, a 52-year-old scientific researcher and drug company spokesperson, is  giving a speech at a neurologist convention when she has an “episode,” a memory lapse triggered by a vision in the audience.  And as she deals with her husband’s supposed affair and the reconciliation with her long-lost daughter, Juliana is visited by haunting memory and stunning grief and we observe fact blurring with fiction as past invades the present.

Susan Haefner, left, as Juliana Smithton

Susan Haefner, left, as Juliana Smithton, and Tracy Michailidis as a host of other women in Juliana’s life. Photos by The Weston Playhouse.

Susan Haefner gives a shimmering performance as Juliana. She artfully allows past trauma to creep up Juliana, then she spirals down into a netherworld of emotional pain.  It is a performance both disturbing and compelling, one that gives this lean, tightly-constructed play its powerful vibrancy.

Tracy Michailidis embodies a host of women in Juliana’s life — daughter, therapist, kind stranger — stamping each character with a high degree of individuality. Juliana’s husband Ian (played by David Bonanno) is an oncologist and should have a friendlier bedside manner; instead he comes across as strident and unsympathetic, the result (one suspects) of playing it far too fast and loud. Since this production was viewed during a preview performance, it is hoped that Bonanno has tweaked his performance to fit more comfortably into the Other Stage’s intimate space.

Director Tim Fort keeps the action crisp and focused, allowing disorientation to slip in almost unnoticed as the play contradicts what we have already seen and heard, pulling us into Juliana’s misty, confused world.

From left, David Bonanno, Susan Haefner and

From left, David Bonanno, Susan Haefner and Tracy Michailidis in ‘The Other Place’ at the Weston Playhouse’s Other Stage.

Kristen Robinson’s scenic design is minimal and flexible as it needs to be; Cory Pattak’s lighting offers some definition to Juliana’s amorphous world of dementia.

If you are looking for an evening of light summer fun, The Other Place is not for you. But, if you are looking to be surprised, challenged and engaged by a taut, deftly told tale, you need to consider the heartbreak that is “The Other Place.

The show runs 80 minutes and is performed without intermission. The Other Place continues through Sunday, Aug. 9 at the Weston Playhouse, The Other Stage at Weston Rod and Gun Club, 982 Route 100, Weston. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday  at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.; Sunday
matinee at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, click here or call 802-824-5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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