Intense, poignant acting.

Updated: Mar 31, 2011, 20:53 PM IST

New York: What if your memories and reality are suddenly challenged by the person with whom you`ve shared your whole life?

This is the subject of Sharr White`s intriguing, fast-paced and poignant new play, ‘The Other Place,’ which is superbly narrated and acted by Emmy Award-winner and theater veteran Laurie Metcalf.

The story of a brilliant researcher in her early 50s, stopped short in her career by an unnamed neurological disease, is premiering off-Broadway in an MCC production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Research scientist Dr. Juliana Smithton (Metcalf) briskly and matter-of-factly describes her sudden entrance into a parallel universe where she`s no longer in charge, and where her memories and her concepts of reality are persistently challenged by her husband, Ian (Dennis Boutsikaris.)

Ironically, Juliana has created a drug to help stave off dementia, and is lecturing to a roomful of doctors about it when her first self-described "medical episode" occurs.

Smartly directed by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantello, Metcalf narrates Juliana`s story and enacts increasingly wrenching scenes in fast-paced vignettes that jump around in time without pause. Juliana, formerly an edgy, smart, self-possessed woman, becomes more sharp-tongued and impatient with others, especially Ian, as her vulnerability increases.

Metcalf is onstage and talking for much of the play`s 75 minutes, alternating between her two roles as coolly wry narrator and increasingly angry, confused patient. Because of Metcalf`s stirring, intense performance, the audience is quickly caught up in the mystery of why Juliana`s reality is so different than her husband`s.

Boutsikaris is good as Juliana`s loving but baffled husband. Aya Cash is quietly effective as Juliana`s neurologist and two other characters, and John Schiappa easily handles a few supporting roles.

White`s dialogue is often funny, even if bitterly so. When Juliana`s neurologist asks if she`s "flirting with suicidal thoughts," she snaps back, "I`m dating them, but they won`t put out."

Careful alterations in sound and lighting, along with Metcalf`s razor-sharp timing, are often the only indications that we`ve suddenly left one scene and are now someplace else. Eugene Lee`s semi-circular set, a collage of overlapping empty frames, suggests Juliana`s blurring of fact and fiction and her increasingly unreliable perceptions and memories.

The drama leads to a fairly well-signalled conclusion, with an awkward situation involving a very understanding stranger, but the emotional impact of Metcalf`s performance is profound.

‘The Other Place’ is performing through April 24.

Bureau Report