The Magic Theatre has opened its 2012-2013 season with a terrific show by Sharr White. "The Other Place" makes us work to figure out what is real and what is not. Part of that discovery is our slow realization of the story's true subject matter. What starts out feeling like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" turns into something very, very different. We love it that the playwright has crafted the arc of the story so brilliantly (especially for a One-Act 80-minute presentation) that we do not dare mention another word about it for fear of angry Spoiler Alert letters from viewers like you.
Don't worry: you'll get it. But don't plan dinner immediately after the show. You may have to sit in your seats for awhile when the lights come up, just to catch your breath after the devastating ending.
Henny Russell is remarkable as Juliana. Her performance is both unsettling and tender -- inexplicable until it all makes sense. Much of this is in the writing but Ms. Russell has to be perfect for us to stay with her. We do, and she rewards us in the end. Meanwhile, Donald Sage Mackay as her husband Ian plays someone as confused as we are, although we come to realize he has seen what is going on far longer than we have.
Carrie Paff plays several parts, the most telling as The Woman who actually lives in The Other Place. Seeing her confusion enables us to crystallize our own. Role after role, Carrie Paff just gets better and better.
Patrick Russell rounds out the cast as The Man. If you saw this year's "Body Awareness" at the Aurora, you will be relieved to know that Jared has survived. Russell also plays multiple roles, including Bobby the nurse and Richard Sillner, the sort-of-alive grad student. That's all you're going to get from us.
"The Other Place" is not lighthearted. You will not be uplifted. You may even be discouraged until that martini comes, as you consider the personal ramifications of what you have just seen. But you will be talking about this one for awhile, because you have been lucky enough to catch a night of brilliant theater.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Sharr White's "The Other Place" Three Stars. Henny Russell earns one star, Loretta Greco earns another for her excellent direction of a show with more time-signature changes than a Dave Brubeck album; the last star is for the story itself. We wish we could go back and see all the clues we missed. Well, we can. Maybe we will.
"The Other Place"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason Center, Buildling D, Third Floor
Extended through October 14
Photo credit: Jennifer Reiley