The Other Place has its regional premiere in Boulder this weekend
"This is an old-boy event in which women do not appear unless to provide some kind of illicit service. And when we do appear, we do not wear heels. And when we do wear heels, if we do not immediately prove we are the smartest person in the room we are not taken seriously."
Michael Ensminger Benaiah Anderson and Rachel Fowler in The Other Place.
So says Juliana of a pharmaceutical conference in Sharr White's play The Other Place, which won raves in New York where it starred Laurie Metcalf and has its regional premiere in Boulder this weekend. A biophysicist who's developed a drug intended to prevent dementia, Juliana seems to have little to worry about in terms of intellect. But as the play opens, she is encountering inexplicable events and suffering from memory lapses.
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Rachel Fowler plays the role for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, and she describes The Other Place as a mystery play. "You get little bits of information. The fun of it is the slow unfolding of the story," she says.
Alzheimer's disease is caused by the misfolding of proteins in the brain, and author White has said in interviews that he thought of this as a metaphor for the structure of the play itself.
It's Juliana who tells the story, and she's about as unreliable a narrator as they come. She's driven by "that fear of losing your memory -- ourselves being the sum total of our memories and acts, and if you lose those, who are you?" Fowler says. "The character is very, very good at covering up her missteps.
"I'm a fairly organic actor," Fowler adds, "one who tries to stay in the moment and really listen and respond, but this character doesn't allow much of that. There is this disconnect: They're saying something, but she hears something else, and the response is unexpected. There's a lot of direct address to the audience. She has two arcs: one, discovering that she's suffering dementia. The second is her family story, her life with her husband and her daughter, and both arcs converge at the end. ... There's an acceptance of her actions and of the dementia and a relinquishing of the struggle to be the smartest person in the room, the person always in control, the alpha."
As for those shoes, Fowler, who identifies herself as a "clog and flip-flop girl" says, laughing, "We finally got the right pair for the play, and they are very, very high. Almost like drag queen heels."
Michael Ensminger Rachel Fowler in The Other Place.
Fowler studied theater at Northwestern University in Chicago and apprenticed for the Actors Theatre of Louisville. She worked in New York for twelve years before moving to Colorado. When you're "in the machine of New York, auditioning six to twelve times a week, doing an off-Broadway show," there isn't much time to reflect, she explains. But when she became pregnant, "I had down-time to think and examine and realize that New York wasn't going to offer me the challenges I wanted. I really wanted to be a mom and I didn't know if it would be possible financially to be a mom and an actor."
Kent Thompson, artistic director for the Denver Center Theatre Company, encouraged Fowler to come to Colorado. She's now been here close to five years, finding work at the Denver Center, LOCAL Theater Company in Boulder, Curious Theatre and the Arvada Center, in addition to the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, which is producing The Other Place. "This community has embraced me," Fowler says. "I've been very very fortunate."
The play has strengthened her sense that time is both short and elusive. "My father died about two years ago," Fowler explains. "When he was really ill, I turned down a bunch of work -- I needed to be with my father and my family, and I didn't work for eight or nine months. Last year I worked ten months, and that was hard for my husband and my daughter. This play, my father dying, and working so much have all put in line for me that my daughter is five and time is going by so fast, and that to slow down and be present is really important -- and really hard sometimes."
The Other Place opens on Friday, March 22 (there's a preview March 21), at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. It runs through April 7, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. General admission is $25; for tickets or more information, call 888-512-7469. For more information, visitwww.boulderensembletheatre.org.