ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “The Other Place,” Sharr White’s taut and tricky play about mental and marital health, is being presented by FUSION Theatre Company at The Cell. The production, under the insightful direction of New York veteran Shepard Sobel, is engrossing and even haunting.
My favorite daytime psychological guru, Dr. Phil, has this mantra: “Perception is reality.” By this, he means (I hope) that an individual’s perception is that individual’s reality. Yet, logic mandates a single reality, despite the number of participants or observers. “The Other Place” revolves around the paradox of perception.
Dr. Juliana Smithton appears confident and self-possessed as she addresses an audience of physicians about a new wonder drug that she discovered. Yet, she is distracted by a young woman in a yellow bikini who is avidly listening to her lecture. When the woman disappears, Juliana is unable to continue her talk.
From this fascinating opening scene, we move forward and backwards in time, aided by Richard Hogle’s scenic and lighting plans and Brent Stevens’ evocative sound design. We see Juliana as a scornful wife, a loving mother, and a difficult patient. The more information playwright White gives us, the less confident we become about our perception and reality.
Like our computer’s spell-check, trying to make sense of what we type – often with surprising results – we in the audience piece together the narrative, sometimes backspacing to make corrections. We are carefully and cleverly given information until the play’s final scene, when all seems clearer. There is no intermission.
I hope that I have been mysterious as well. There is no need, however, to be coy about the acting. It is excellent. There is, however, a discrepancy about ages. The actresses playing mother and daughter are not the 27 years apart that the script says they are. But the performances are more important.
Celia Schaefer plays the Smithton daughter Laurel, who ran away from home at age 15, with visible exasperation and a desire for independence. Schaefer also plays Dr. Teller who tries patiently to help Juliana, who is sure she has a brain tumor. Schaefer performs a third role as well, and she is able to delineate each character with sharp focus.
Peter Diseth is strong as – among other roles – Juliana’s research post-doc, who was involved with the daughter. Scott Harrison is compelling as Juliana’s husband, Ian, a cancer specialist himself. Harrison powerfully conveys his character’s confusion and exasperation at his wife’s erratic moods and actions.
At the center of the play is Juliana, portrayed by FUSION’s own Jacqueline Reid in one of her finest performances. Reid’s Juliana is assured, fierce, loving, disagreeable, confused and frightened as she takes the audience with her on a harrowing journey. “The Other Place” is outstanding.
Performances continue through Feb. 23 at The Cell Theatre and on March 1 at the Wool Warehouse, 516 First NW. For information, go to fusionabq.org. For reservations call 766-9412.