Playwright Sharr White returns to Boulder with The Other Place
Sharr White's plays have been workshopped and mounted around the country over the years, and he has received several awards -- but it was The Other Place, his piece about a brilliant woman scientist's battle with dementia, that brought him to Broadway last year. Laurie Metcalf played the scientist, Juliana; the director was Joe Mantello.
Michael Ensminger Rachel Fowler in The Other Place.
"I think it certainly gave an awareness that you are suddenly in a certain stratosphere of quality," White says. "You're writing more publicly and you need to think twice about these sentences you're putting together. And there's less stress about where the next play's going to. It does open up opportunities."
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Working with Metcalf and Mantello was "just a wonderful experience," he says. "Both are very smart about structure, action and what's effective, very smart about what's been said before and the process of honing a play."
The result, which is showing at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder with Rachel Fowler in the lead, is a tight, convoluted and intense piece that keeps audiences off-balance, intrigued and absorbed for the 75 minutes it takes to unfold.
White himself grew up in Boulder. His father, Stephen H. White, a biophysicist and physiologist, taught at the University of Colorado, and he went to Fairview High School. Boulder, he says, "is a great place to be a teenager. Coming back to Boulder is like stepping through time; it hasn't changed at all. You still have punk rockers hanging out on the mall. The cult of the outdoors has replaced the cult of crystal healing power -- but that's still really there, too. The mall is exactly the same. Though I miss the Abo's on the mall."
His father's expertise is membrane protein structure. The Alzheimer's beginning to claim Juliana's mind in The Other Place is caused -- like several brain disorders -- by misfolding proteins, and this also provides the metaphor for the play's puzzle-box structure. Juliana attempts to protect herself through her own fierce intellect. "Very smart people think because they understand something they will be protected from it," White comments. "But just because a rock climber knows everything about the type of granite they're on doesn't mean they're immune from the laws of gravity."
For his protagonist, "I wanted somebody who appears just bullet-proof, utterly unassailable, someone who has a certain armor in her high heels and her aspect and the way she forces people to come to her on her own terms," he continues. "Because, increasingly, she doesn't know what's happening. People beginning to express the disease find tricks to keep others off the sense that something might be wrong. The play's about this very Greek kind of downfall."
White, who has a full-time job and gets up at 5 a.m. daily in order to write, has another play currently being workshopped and has also started on a new script. "You get ideas and you get excited about them," he says. "It's always hard to get out of bed, but it's impossible if you don't like the idea that you have. The right idea is the one that will actually pull you out of bed."
The Other Place, produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, will continue its run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, April 7, at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder. For ticket information, call 888-512-7469.