Strong Performances In Powerful Drama

The Other Place South Bend (IN) Civic Theatre

If you manage to survive infancy, childhood, teenage, young adulthood and middle age with a minimum of medical mishaps, you should reasonably expect to head into what is euphemistically referred to as your “golden years,” right?

Today, unfortunately, the answer too often is — wrong.

The shadows of dementia and Alzheimer’s hover over those heading into their final years and, increasingly, over many decidedly younger.

The journey of one woman into this unyielding darkness, and its affect on those in her life, is powerfully played out in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production “The Other Place,” on stage through Sunday in the Warner Theatre.

Juliana Smithton (Melissa Manier), age 52, is a professor-turned-drug company scientist. Speaking at a medical convention, ostensibly in support of a new drug that would help combat neurological diseases, she suddenly loses touch with reality, something she attributes to her belief that she is suffering from a brain tumor. She blames her distraction on seeing a girl in a yellow swimsuit among the male listeners.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreResisting help from her husband Ian (Roy Bronkema), an oncologist who is uncertain of her self-diagnosis and whom she alternately clings to and pushes away as she struggles to hold on to an ever-elusive reality. She fights therapy and, as her mind wanders, experiences phone conversations from a long lost daughter and struggles to return to “the other place,” a Cape Cod cottage once owned by the family, where she is sure she will find her missing daughter.

An encounter there with the new owner, at first hostile then sympathetic, eventually leads to some realization of what is happening.

Her gradual but inevitable slide is terrifying to her and equally horrific for her husband, the target of her increasingly vitriolic attacks, who struggles for any way to help his wife in a situation he realizes can only become worse.

Playwright Sharr White’s script is deftly crafted to keep the audience in a state of uncertainty as to whether Juliana is experiencing fact or fancy.

Under the sensitive direction of Aaron Nichols, the four member cast creates the shadowy world of mental illness, making the 90-minute (no intermission) a truly emotionally riveting experience.

The most riveting is Manier, whose delusions become her reality with incredibly painful consequences. Her attempts to desperately hang on to the phantoms she believes real are shattering and, in the end, infinitely empathetic. It is a fully realized and emotionally draining portrayal of the onset of “the great darkness,” one of the most frightening conditions in a world full of frightening conditions.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBronkema delivers an equally powerful performance as the frustrated husband, stretched to the end of his own rational thinking and suffering helplessly in tandem with his wife.

The roles of the daughter, the therapist and the now-owner of “the other place” are created skillfully by Courtney Qualls who manages to instill each with its own persona. The final scene between the owner and Juliana is truly heartwrenching.

Michael Clarkson as “The Man” creates the son-in-law Juliana accuses of responsibility for her daughter’s disappearance. Or was he?

Jacee Rohick’s textured scenic design sets the solid decking of a summer place against the semi-transparency of floating panels which finally disappear into a triangulated reality.

Two slim streams of sand flow from the ceiling to flank the stage, ending just prior to curtain time. Obviously the elusive and ever-shifting sands of time. Don’t let them run out before seeing this excellent production.

THE OTHER PLACE” runs through Sunday in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theater. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

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