In The Other Place, an MCC Theater production that opened this week at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, the mystery of what happened ten years earlier is superseded by more immediate questions of what's happening to the play's protagonist, Juliana. Juliana, played by veteran Laurie Metcalf, speaks directly and frankly to the audience about an episode at a medical conference when she first fell ill. We soon discover that it's the onset of dementia, casting doubt on Juliana's trustworthiness and reliability as a narrator of her story.
Everything she reveals from that point forward is veiled in uncertainty, leading the audience to approach her with skepticism and suspicion as she tells of both past events and current relationship battles. It takes confirmation from another character to assure us that certain things did happen or that certain characters Juliana speaks about existed at all; her version of events must be investigated and scrutinized by everyone.
Thanks to Metcalf's amazing ability to show a range of emotion - on more than one occasion in unpredictable and heart-stopping outbursts - we never wind up feeling contempt for Juliana's character, despite her self-destructive behavior and severe distrust of others. Rather, she garners sympathy from outsiders who can easily spot her troubling condition well before she's ready to accept it. In that way, the audience winds up feeling as helpless as her loved ones do over Juliana's fleeting sense of reality.
Juliana's husband Ian (Dennis Boutsikaris) stands by her through her outward rage, inner turmoil, and harsh allegations because he recognizes that deep down Juliana is just having a hard time coming to terms with her debilitating disease. Ian's unwavering, loving treatment of Juliana paves way for the play's later somber stages. As Juliana begins to break down and show weakness for likely the first time in her 52-year-old life, we understand Ian's difficult position even more, as we've, too, witnessed her deteriorate before our very eyes.
While the audience spends a portion of the production trying to piece together what happened when - a series of flashbacks shed some light but they also add even more intrigue - the focus throughout remains on Juliana as she struggles in the present time. In the second half of the play, the question of "Will she be okay?" takes precedent ahead of the issue of "What happened?" that dominates the earlier parts. For, after all is said and done, there is hope to hang onto.