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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING The article you requested is displayed below. Off the Wall’s ‘Other Place’ offers much to admire Author(s): Doug Shanaberger For the Observer-Reporter Date: October 20, 2012 Page: 6C Section: ENTERTAINMENT “I’m glad I didn’t know what this is about before I came here tonight,” said one of my friends after a recent performance of “The Other Place” at Off the Wall Theater. He made a good point, which I’ll get to later. And the remark came as the first step toward much thoughtful praise, not because he was expressing dissatisfaction with Sharr White’s dramatic character study for committing any of the offenses that routinely bother theatergoers. Here is a play that doesn’t indelicately explore a subject matter that most people would rather avoid. It won’t make viewers uncomfortable. And, no, it wasn’t crafted to become the latest polarizing experience, one that separate viewers into those two common camps, “loved it” and “hated it.” On the contrary, audiences visiting Off the Wall’s new home in Carnegie will find a great deal to admire in White’s gripping story and many reasons for cheering its lead actress, Virginia Wall Gruenert, who – besides surpassing her superb work in Off the Wall’s staging of “ ‘night, Mother” two years ago – delivers a performance that serves as the backbone of an intelligent, moving production. But it’s also a play of strategically-placed surprises, all of them quiet, and with it comes several unforeseen turns – the kind that shouldn’t be ruined with spoilers. Let me add, too, that if you’ve heard “The Other Place” grimly described as being about illness and tragedy (the sort of fare you’d see following the announcement “Tonight on the Hallmark Channel …”), try letting the play speak for itself. White, it has to be said, skates around a few clichés throughout her play, and many of them are, I guess, inevitable. You may even feel a groan rising from the pit of your stomach when you hear the main character, an esteemed biophysicist named Julianna Smithton, reveal that she’s beginning to panic over her recent memory lapses and episodes of erratic behavior. Brain cancer, she tells her estranged husband. But is it really? Visits to a doctor follow, as do scenes that show how deeply Julianna has plunged into the sort of crisis over which no woman, no matter how strong she’s perceived to be, would have any control. And these scenes are among the most powerful directed Melissa Hill Grande, working for the first time at Off the Wall. They aren’t predictable. They aren’t too familiar. Neither, for that matter, is Julianna. She’s a force to be reckoned with when we first meet her, a woman prone to sarcasm, acidic quips and outbursts that have alienated the people closest to her. Gruenert doesn’t sentimentalize Julianna, though, and doesn’t soften the needles of her prickly exterior. The actress plays a difficult character with all the intensity and bravado White must have intended, while letting anguish and fear come to the surface gradually, as if she didn’t want it to. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much sympathy for a character whose inclination would be to reject it. “The Other Place” also provides excellent moments for Mark Conway Thompson as Julianna’s husband, Ricardo Vila-Roger as her son-in-law, and Erika Cuenca in three roles, including Julianna’s daughter and, near the end of the play, a compassionate stranger who gives Julianna what she needs but can’t admit to wanting: a shoulder to cry on. “The Other Place” Off the Wall Theater Through Oct. 27 412-394-3353 Three and a Half Stars Techical problems: If you have a technical problem with your account please contact Newsbank at 1-800-896-5587 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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