By Steve Wong
What is wrong with Juliana?
She’s highly educated, talented, successful, worldly, and sophisticated. As a pharmaceutical pitchwoman, she knows how to work a crowd of doctors at a seminar in the Virgin Islands, and she dresses well for the occasion.
She’s the medical scientist who developed a wonder drug to fight dementia, a degenerative disease that affects the minds of about 55 million people around the world at any given time. No matter where she is, she is probably the smartest person in the room, and she’s not shy about saying so.
But something is not right. She is at the conference podium deftly delivering the hard-science facts about her discovery, but she’s distracted by… a young woman in a yellow bikini sitting among the suited men doctors. Why is there a young woman in a yellow bikini in the audience, and why does it bother Juliana?
Actually, a lot of things bother Juliana: big things, little things, things that may or not actually exist. As an accomplished business woman with a clinical background, she knows she can make sense out of anything… even her cheating husband who won’t admit he’s cheating. He denies that he is filing for a divorce, but she knows better. And he doesn’t believe her when she says their daughter is living with the man who tried to steal her research, and they have two daughters.
And he doesn’t believe her when she says she has a brain tumor. He’s an oncologist (cancer doctor), and he should know better.
It’s hard — and getting harder all the time — for Juliana to deliver her pitch when stray thoughts flashback through her mind. Or, she visits “The Other Place” of her past. Or, when she just forgets.
If you are a little confused, welcome to The Other Place, a two-act Broadway play currently produced by Greenville’s Centre Stage. Written by American playwright Sharr White, The Other Place premiered off-Broadway in 2011 for a one-month run.and had its Broadway premiere in 2013. Along the way, it has been nominated for two Outer Critics Circle Awards, but it was stage and screen actress Laurie Metcalf (she plays the ditzy scatterbrain Jackie on the TV sitcoms Roseanne and The Conners) who actually won an Obie Award for her role as Juliana. She was also nominated for a Tony Award.
At Centre Stage The Other Place is directed by Linda Killion. Undoubtedly, Killion knew this play’s success is dependent on character development and carefully written dialogue, therefore the setting is simple: a few no-frills chairs, small tables, and a podium. In her program notes, she wrote: “The Other Place allows us to intimately view important events that Juliana navigates in her personal way. We ride along with her as she pieces together parts of her life in sheer dramatic form…. As Juliana’s situation unfolds, the audience will be piecing together the story as it progresses and be left with much food for thought.”
The leading role of Juliana is played by actress Michele Colletti, who has been seen there in Mamma Mia, Good People and Sister Act. Most recently she has directed several virtual performances for not only Centre Stage production of Couples, which has now been viewed more than 7000 times, but also for Proud Mary Theatre, SART, and Attic Salt Theatre in Western North Carolina. Colletti is excellent in her ability to swing her character’s moods and “episodes” from extreme to flat out bonkers, and still allow Juliana some degree of compassion and dignity.
Juliana’s husband Ian is played by Jim Killion, who has performed at Centre Stage before. He’s also been seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Art, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In The Other Place, Killion is a good-guy husband under attack, trying his sincere best to cope with a wife who is not coping, sometimes delusional, and most often hostile — no easy task for a husband or an actor.
Supporting roles of “The Woman” and “The Man” are played by Kristin Gagliardi and Wilbur Mauk. Each actor is commended for playing multiple minor but critical roles, demonstrating their professional flexibility.
Anyone who has ever had to deal with someone who has dementia will find themselves reliving those terrible moments of confusion, frustration, anger, and hostility. It is a place no one wants to be. Centre Stage is both brave and community-minded for producing The Other Place, giving some of us a glimpse at what might lie in wait for even the most healthy and stable-minded persons. I highly recommend seeing The Other Place, if for no other reason than to be warned. Dementia takes prisoners, forcing the rest of us to be reluctant jail keepers.
The Other Place has unfortunately closed. But check out Centre Stage’s New Play Festival November 18-20 @ 7:30 pm. And The Final Countdown rock show in December. Tickets are available to centrestage.org.