by Emily Dodi
Every weekend until March 13, while some people will be knocking one back at the local pub or enjoying a meal at a neighborhood restaurant, several dozen theatergoers (a full house every night if there is any justice) will be sitting in rapt silence as they experience something extraordinary in The Other Place, Sharr White’s beautifully written play directed by Taylor Kasch at Santa Paula Theater Center.
Cynthia Killion plays Juliana Smithton, a brilliant scientist who is riding high on a medical breakthrough when she experiences an “episode” that derails her life. Suddenly she is cast adrift as her memories begin to slip away. Reality and fantasy, past and present, loved ones and strangers merge until she can’t decipher one from the other. Juliana is drawn to “the other place,” her family home in Cape Cod where her happiest and darkest memories reside. But what solace she finds is tempered by a realization that cuts her to the quick.
The entire cast is very good, but this is Killion’s show. Sinking her teeth into the role of Juliana, Killion gets to the very marrow of a complicated woman raging against the inevitable. As Juliana’s mind begins to splinter, Killion shows us every shard: difficult patient, angry wife, anguished mother, trusting child, calm sage. Killion and Kasch have collaborated many times before and the trust between them is apparent in Killion’s performance. Under Kasch’s expert direction, she fearlessly mines even the most difficult emotional territory.
As Juliana’s husband, Michael Perlmutter deftly plumbs Ian’s conflicted feelings as he rides the emotional roller coaster to which he’s been strapped. He and Killion have great chemistry, whether they’re trading barbs and talking over each other as couples do or shoring each other up against the tempests of life.
Of the three roles Amanda Canty plays, she is best as The Woman, a stranger who plays a pivotal role in Juliana’s life. Canty gives her just the right amount of upper-middle-class disdain, then evokes a tenderness that feels just as real. Scott Blanchard is so natural in his two roles, as the much-maligned son-in-law and as an innocuous physician, it’s a shame he is not onstage longer.
Produced by Leslie Nichols, The Other Place features a crew that includes set designer Mike Carnahan, costume designer Barbara Pédziwiatr, lighting designer Gary Richardson, sound designer Kathleen Bosworth, prop mistress Gail Heck, stage manager Karl Krause and tech support by Doug Learn and Jake Mailey. Together they create a world that flows seamlessly from a medical convention in the Caribbean to a doctor’s office to a family home. Videos provide context as well as a revelation that is heartbreakingly beautiful.
The Other Place runs 88 minutes without an intermission, all the better to keep us within its grip. We ride the torrent with Juliana and it’s a marvel that there are moments when she makes us laugh out loud. The Other Place is powerful stuff and not to be missed. But afterward, you might want to head to that pub.
The Other Place through March 13 at Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula. For more information, call 525-4645 or visit www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.