Early on, you can tell that Juliana has issues. She's abrasive, snarky and inconsistent. Her husband looks long-suffering. In conversation, people respond to her with pained restraint. Juliana is off-kilter, but we're not sure how or why, and, in truth, she doesn't know either. We spend most of the play in Juliana's head, but even her first-person narration doesn't always add up. The Other Place, by Sharr White, is like a Rubik's Cube of tragedy, and even though the colors of Juliana's psyche start to match up, the puzzle ultimately remains half-solved.
Off the Wall Productions presents this cerebral drama, and although the show is often too slow and understated for its own good, the suspense thrums throughout. Director Melissa Hill Grande fluidly moves her cast from scene to scene, thanks in part to Michael E. Moats' precise lighting design. As Juliana, Virginia Wall Gruenert has the difficult task of playing disoriented and self-assured at the same time. As her husband, Ian, Mark Conway Thompson plays the most sympathetic role — a man who just wants his wife back. Meanwhile, Erika Cuenca more or less steals the show with various supporting roles.
What's striking about White's script is that it blends medical science with personal relationships, and the dialogue is both sharp and realistic. Instead of the raw existential nonsense of a lesser play, White wants us to feel as flustered as Juliana and Ian. To explain further would ruin the twists, but suffice it to say that The Other Place is not your everyday schizophrenic, dream-within-a-dream, what-is-reality snoozer. Juliana endures something real, common and frightfully important. The Matrix this is not.
In the end, The Other Place is a fine way to inaugurate Off the Wall's magnificent new theater space, in Carnegie. Until recently, Pittsburghers had to drive all the way to Washington, Pa., to catch Off the Wall's exceptional programming. Its new theater is, as locals love to say, "right through the tunnel." The space is cozy, comfortable and easily a thousand times better than the last. Off the Wall is a company that deserves to progress, and whether or not you visited its first location, now's the time to see its Other Place.