Chilton Crane and Daryl Shuttleworth in The Other Place. Photo by Anne Marie Slater.
Chilton Crane and Daryl Shuttleworth in The Other Place. Photo by Anne Marie Slater.

While Sharr White’s The Other Place may bring an important and timely topic to the stage, it fails to pull us fully into its worlds.

[pullquote]The Other Place will appeal to those that can relate to the journey Juliana and those around her are forced to take.  For the rest of us, it is more a travelogue.[/pullquote]It’s not difficult to see how The Other Place might resonate with someone who has seen a family member or friend go through what Juliana and her husband experience; for the rest of us, we need more.

Much of that responsibility lies with the actor playing Juliana, and while Chilton Crane works hard to show us a woman unable to confront her circumstances, there is an ultimate desperation that seems to be missing, and a reliance on White’s words to deliver much of the emotional impact.  It is a delicate balance for sure, given much of what Juliana tells us at the outset isn’t necessarily the reality for others, but is difficult to connect for those that do not already have a connection.

Director Christy Webb doesn’t help.  At various times through the first half of the play, Juliana gives a presentation to an imaginary audience of peers, while delivering asides that explain what is happening inside her mind at the time.  To do this, Webb has Crane looking left and right for the explanations and facing front while addressing her peers.  As Crane whips her head back and forth there are huge chunks of dialogue that were simply lost by the distraction.  It is a curious decision as the differences were already highlighted by her presentation being amplified.

Surprisingly, given the huge focus on Juliana, Daryl Shuttleworth does manage to find the desperation as the husband who must witness his wife’s decline. Avery Crane, the real-life daughter to Chilton, finds the heart of the final scene as she moves from the cool bitch ready to discard a woman obviously needing help, to a place of humanity that we hope we can all muster if placed in the same situation.

About 40 minutes into this relatively short 70 minute play, stretched to 90 with a late start and an opening where Crane sits taking notes and drinking water for what seemed an eternity, Juliana’s secret is revealed.  While most in the audience will have arrived at this point before the playwright gets us there, there are two scenes beyond this central revelation.  The first of these seemed unnecessarily repetitive, and the second takes us to a future time where hope remains.  Even with Avery Crane’s performance though, this final scene still manages to dip its toes in movie-of-the-week territory.

Set and projection designers Jamie Nesbitt and Naomi Sider hit it out of the park with their fractured screens upon which locale and Juliana’s presentation are displayed.  During the second scene the screens are turned to a static display, no doubt intended to represent a more solid time before Juliana’s diagnosis, but it felt arbitrary and unnecessary.  The final tableau, despite its obvious intent to tug at our hearts, is one of the most gorgeous you will see on stage.

The Other Place will appeal to those that can relate to the journey Juliana and those around her are forced to take.  For the rest of us, it is more a travelogue.

The Other Place by Sharr White.  Directed by Christy Webb.  A Christy Webb Production.  On stage at the PAL Studio Theatre in Vancouver through July 5.  Visit http://theotherplacevancouver.ca for tickets and information.