There are few, if any, absolutes in the theater. One production or performance could be judged superior by some, inferior by others. Excellence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Well, how’s this for an absolute: There has been no finer individual performance in local theater than the one currently being given by Jacqueline Wright in “The Other Place” at Anaheim’s Chance Theater.
This highly honored drama by Sharr White, brilliantly directed by Matthew McCray, takes its audience along with its heroine down the circuitous rabbit hole of insanity. The Chance’s intimate staging, in the smaller of its two theaters, draws playgoers into a compelling mental maelstrom.
Wright’s interpretation is outstanding bordering on astonishing as she enacts a skilled neurologist battling early-onset dementia in her early 50s. To say we feel her pain would, indeed, be an understatement given our close proximity to the proceedings.
As the play opens, Wright’s character, Juliana, is delivering a promotional presentation for a pharmaceutical company as shards of doubt begin to chip away at her psyche. Convinced of her own intellectual superiority, she charges on, gradually becoming consumed by an unseen and unrelenting disease.
Her marriage may or may not be failing, but her husband, strongly played by Ron Hastings, continues to offer love and support. Playwright White creates alternating moments of reality and fantasy, which both performers handle expertly.
Two supporting players, Krystyna Ahlers and Philip David Black, complete the cast in multiple assignments. Ahlers excels as an estranged daughter, a stern-but-caring psychiatrist and, in the engrossing climactic scene, a stranger who offers care and compassion after finding a distraught stranger (Juliana) in her home.
The “other place” of the title is that home, once owned by Juliana and her husband but sold a decade before. Juliana continues to make reference to it as a house where happier memories were formed, and when she returns there (she’s retained a key), her mental state undergoes a complete — and superbly enacted by Wright — collapse.
The play’s scenic design, nicely crafted by Megan Hill, is deceptively simple at first, a plain background accommodating multiple segments. Then, almost magically, it becomes the “other place,” a comfortable dwelling reminiscent of happier times.
“The Other Place” is a dynamic piece of theater bolstered by Jacqueline Wright’s magnificent performance, which should be witnessed by any serious student of the performing arts.
Tom Titus reviews local theater.
IF YOU GO:
What: “The Other Place”
Where: Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through Oct. 21
Cost: $21 to $35