Review: A Personal Letter to Actress Kate Levy in 'The Other Place' at the Rep

 In Culture

Dear Ms. Levy: Forgive the intrusion of writing you this personal letter. It’s unorthodox, I know, but fawning over an actress in public is such an uncomfortable thing. Still, fawn I must. Your performance in “The Other Place,” currently playing at The Rep, is the soaring, grand stuff that all theaters aspire to but so seldom achieve. From the very first moment, you grab us by the throats and pull us into your character’s life, and we are helpless to resist. The production was spellbinding, and your dynamic performance was nothing short of magical.

Kate Levy as Juliana. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Kate Levy as Juliana.
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

It must be a frightening feeling to slowly become aware you are losing your mind. Do you go through it at that level every night? Are you a little dazed and confused after the performance, I wonder? You are so immersed in the Juliana Smithton character—so fully committed to each and every moment—that it’s unimaginable that you would be able to just turn it off when the show is over. Some roles are like that, requiring their human inhabitants to strip down and swim in the frigid emotional waters of the character by swimming in the frigid waters of their own memories. It takes a toll I’m sure. Not that there is any scenery being chewed on here, but the scenery is devoured nevertheless, by the massiveness of your talent.

Of course others deserve credit as well. R. Ward Duffy does excellent work as your husband Ian, and as the audience becomes more and more aware of what is actually happening, his devotion and love for you are felt by the audience too, which in itself is remarkable, considering Juliana doesn’t come off as the most likable person in the beginning. Clark Scott Carmichael and Amelia McClain in multiple Man and Woman roles do very good work as well.

Ward Duffy as Ian and Kate Levy as Juliana. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr

Ward Duffy as Ian and Kate Levy as Juliana.
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr

And what a script by Sharr White, huh? The way it is structured is brilliant, with more twists and turns and revelations than a good mystery, but here the surprises aren’t meant just to surprise the audience, but rather each one gives us vital information about your character and furthers the magic of the play. This play explores its subject like archaeologists uncover an historic site—not with bulldozers and backhoes but by painstakingly brushing away centuries of dirt and misunderstanding. Rob Ruggiero understands this, and the result is a production of significance.

The technical aspects didn’t disappoint either. Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s set is fabulous. An abstract wall of what looks like files is chameleon-like in its ability to adapt to various settings, and doubles as a projection screen for projection designer William Cusick. John Lasiter’s lights are lifting or moody as necessary, and Fitz Patton does a great job with the sound and original music. Dorothy Marshall Englis did the costumes, which always results in perfection.

Amelia McClain as the woman and Kate Levy as Juliana. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr

Amelia McClain as the woman and Kate Levy as Juliana.
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr

There is a moment in the show very near its end when you let out a cry that is so rooted in reality, in your pain and anguish, so real, so heart-wrenching, that I wonder how many in the audience welled up, as though helplessly caught up in some kind of spontaneous convulsion. Your cry was connected. It sounds so contrived to put it on paper, but to be there in the seats, to hear the despair, the torment and maybe just a bit of relief, is a very strong dose of the mood-altering drug that is theater, and it gets to the heart of why theater is important. It creates empathy. The power of great art is a remarkable thing, and make no mistake, “The Other Place” is art—living, moving, breathing art—of the very highest degree.

If a critic’s job is to help people decide if they should go see something and why they should go, then a review of “The Other Place” at the Rep is easy. Should you go? Yes. Why? Because theater. Because Kate Levy.

“The Other Place” continues at the Rep through Feb. 9. For tickets and information, visit the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis website, or call 314-968-4925

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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