There is a word for stories that take commonplace fears and desires and, through the expert application of fantasy, intensify them into the cathartic pleasures of shock, repulsion and the reassurance of “That is not I.” That word is horror.
With his 2011 play The Other Place, which is getting its L.A. premiere by Road Theatre, writer Sharr White and director Andre Barron transform what in lesser hands might have been the stuff of a routine medical drama into a crackerjack terror tale rooted in the fragility of our sense of self, but without a literal ghost or ghoul in sight.
Instead, White gives us the ever-splintering perspective of Juliana Smithton (a superlative Taylor Gilbert), an acerbic 52-year-old microbiologist. The 80-minute evening charts the onset of her mysterious degenerative dementia from when it first claims her job as a high-powered pharmaceutical sales representative to when it eventually costs her the ability to distinguish between what is real and only imagined.
It’s a coup of purposeful misdirection. White first sets the stage with what appears to be a run-of-the-mill family melodrama about a philandering husband (the always compelling Sam Anderson) and a bitterly estranged daughter (a self-assured Kara Hume, understudying for Danielle Stephens), then gradually widens his scope to reveal that nothing is as Juliana or we have assumed.
And if the play can’t finally overcome the deflating bathos that is endemic to a subgenre in which character is invariably constrained by clinical pathology, Barron’s taut direction, Kaitlyn Pietras’ tasteful set and effective projections and the precision ensemble make it a sleek and hair-raising ride.
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The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; through April 11. (818) 761-8838, roadtheatre.org.
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