In Sharr White’s riveting 2011 drama The Other Place, excellently presented by the Dayton Theatre Guild in its local premiere, successful neurologist Juliana Smithson faces the toughest battle of her life. Although she appears to be on top of the world, she realizes, at only 52, that her mental state is extremely fragile and beyond repair.
Delicately directed with smooth transitions by Kathy Mola, The Other Place unfolds as an engrossing mystery, an intimate character study, and a visceral psychological drama. Events transpire non-linear, blurring the past and present, which forces the audience to take notice of even the slightest details. As Juliana attempts to disprove reality, she battles her husband, filing for divorce, and her doctor, trying to decipher the depths of her illness. The disappearance of her daughter is also a major factor, a major source of heartache, lingering throughout.
As the distraught Juliana, Amy Askins, last seen at the Guild in The Trip to Bountiful and commonly known for her comedic instincts, delivers her most powerful and dramatic performance. Serving as the play’s narrator, an astute choice by White allowing the audience to keep Juliana’s perspective paramount, she offers an engaging yet stinging flair. She is often personable yet occasionally explosive, a veritable loose cannon in many respects but understandably so considering the sheer complexity of dementia. Askins is particularly dynamic in two scenes accented by the admirable Jamie McQuinn as Ian, Juliana’s husband, and the beguiling Kayla Graham, a befuddled stranger offering compassionate understanding. The former concerns ongoing frustration about Juliana’s daughter (allowing McQuinn one of his strongest moments) while the latter centers on Juliana’s impromptu visit to the titular abode (designed as a fragmented remembrance by Chris Harmon) recalling better days for her and her family. Mark Sharp is also featured in various roles as The Man, particularly notable as a gentle presence in the final moments. The production also incorporates projection coordination by Gary Thompson and lovely beach photography and modeling by Cole Reamey and Rachel Mola, respectively.
Although White unfortunately doesn’t venture into enough of Juliana and Ian’s backstory, he nonetheless paints an emotional and relatable portrait of what happens when the mind betrays.
The Other Place continues through April 1 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. The play is performed in 80 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $13-$20. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org.