If you want to know the solution to this mystery, don’t ask its director and stars.
“It’s tricky to talk about,” says director Steven Pounders about The Other Place, a new play that opens at Circle Theatre on Saturday. “It is a play about the way that memory haunts us, and how the past carries a shadow over the future, sometimes in unexpected ways.”
This drama by Sharr White, which had a brief run on Broadway last year, focuses on Juliana Smithton, an accomplished neurologist who is dealing with some major family and health issues.
“In the play, she is lecturing to a bunch of doctors [about a drug]. And that lecture becomes kind of the spine of the play because all the other scenes branch off that lecture and return to it,” says Pounders, who teaches theater at Baylor University when he is not directing or acting here and in Austin. “It moves very quickly, and it bounces back and forth between the past and present.”
During these excursions, Juliana makes tantalizing references to a cottage on Cape Cod that is “the other place.” But the play, which a Washington Post review described as “confusing and thrilling,” apparently reveals its secrets slowly — and profoundly.
“You can tell as this play begins that there is something you don’t know that you need to know,” says Pounders, whose previous directing effort at Circle was last season’s A Bright New Boise. “It says something universal about human existence, about how our memory of family changes us and realigns our lives. It is the best of a puzzle play and the best of a dramatic play. It’s a powerful story with a powerful hook.”
Playing the role of Juliana is University of Texas at Arlington drama professor Julienne Greer, who particularly enjoys the comic relief in this script.
“This show deals with some pretty intense issues, but the playwright does a real good job of adding little zingers to provide a little comedy. It’s important to find that,” she says.
Co-star Bill Jenkins, who plays a doctor in the show, agrees.
“It is very poignant, but it has all these escapes. It’s funny,” says Bill Jenkins, an actor who works consistently all around the area, including a couple of appearances at Casa Mañana late last year. “There is just something about hearing very erudite, well-off people [curse]so many times. It makes you go, ‘Oh, wow, those people have problems, too.’ ”
Both actors, who are joined in the cast by husband and wife Curtis Raymond Shideler and Meg Shideler, found interesting things in their characters while making that exploration in different ways.
“I really like parts where I can be a driving character. It’s just part of my personality,” says Greer, who completed her doctorate at University of Texas-Dallas last year, a chore that has kept her from local stages for the past two years.
Pounders feels that inner drive makes the actress an especially good match for her character.
“Even though the primary tragedy of the play surrounds her, she is still eager to tell the tale. She’s a good narrator for a dark story,” he says.
Pounders’ casting is also capitalizing on one of Jenkins’ strengths — his ability to make fairly ordinary characters interesting.
“For me, it stems from the pattern of the dialogue. I ask myself, ‘What kind of guy does that sound like?’ ” says Jenkins. “So I work backwards. I work from the text back to the character emotionally.”
So The Other Side, for which actress Laurie Metcalf received a Tony nomination for best actress in a play, sounds like a show that wants to keep its audience guessing throughout its estimated 70-minute running time. But based on the track records the cast and crew bring to this production, there is not likely to be any mystery about the quality of the production.