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One Play Hits, Another Misses as Off-Broadway Opens

One Play Hits, Another Misses as Off-Broadway Opens 1

Of two new Off-Broadway plays, The Other Place (top) is a hit, while Marie and Bruce is uneven.

With the deluge of new Broadway shows opening this season, it’s easy to miss what’s happening on the outskirts of the Great White Way. Off-Broadway has featured some of the best theatrical productions to hit New York. But choose carefully.

Top shows this season include Blood from a Stone, The Whipping Man and Three Sisters.

Two of the most recent Off-Broadway pieces to open are The Other Place and Marie and Bruce, though only one is really worth checking out.

Sharr White’s The Other Placefeatures an unforgettable performance by Laurie Metcalf, who displays great range and gripping emotion as a woman coming to terms with the onset of dementia.

Metcalf’s Juliana Smithton is an invigorating amalgamation of irony and intrigue. Her research leads to a potential breakthrough in neurological medicine as her own mind seems to be abandoning her, leading to a story that keeps its audience engated at every turn.

During a lecture to colleagues at a beach resort, Juliana displays a stiff and stoic nature, though Metcalf still somehow makes her likable.

Just as she would demonstrate a thesis in a PowerPoint presentation, Juliana displays her life to her audience by compartmentalizing it. With short, clipped sentences and the whip of a hand, Juliana changes snapshots of her disjointed memories- not all of which end up being real.

White’s writing is quick, sometimes even impatient in homage to the psyche of his central character. “I’m a woman in between,” says Juliana in a moment of contemplation.

Joe Mantello’s (November, 9 to 5) direction is impeccable. He creates a number of different worlds with a small set and minimal props.

A convention center takes on the mist of a rainy day on Cape Cod with great ease, thanks in part to the choices he makes about his actors and the ways in which they utilize their space.

One Play Hits, Another Misses as Off-Broadway Opens 2

Laurie Metcalf gives a memorable performance in The Other Place

Audiences can expect an entrancing finale including hauntingly intense images and music that will leave them gasping for breath as they wipe their eyes.

In contrast, people will be trying to keep their eyes open after taking in The New Group’s Marie & Bruce.

With playwright Wallace Shawn’s commendable history in theater (Aunt Dan and Lemon, Our Late Night), this revival is a huge disappointment.

Shawn brought the story of this dysfunctional couple to life when he (and Tom Cairns) penned the screenplay for the 2004 film version starring Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick.

One would think the newest incarnation of the piece (which stars Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley) would benefit from Shawn’s experience with it. It’s too bad this is not the case.

Marie and Bruceseems to get off to a stimulating start as Tomei, swimming in cigarette smoke and bed sheets, viciously insults the husband who lies next to her.

Marie tells her story to the audience, breaking every now and then to degrade Bruce to his face.

It’s fun to laugh at Tomei’s aggravation and disgust with Whaley’s adorable, putty face and sheepish grin.

The first scene is perfectly set for a show to be filled with laughter and darkness. B ut that play never arrives.

Instead, as Marie resolves to tell her annoyingly positive husband that she’s had enough is bogged down, her story gets bogged down by laborious asides and monologues with little depth.

Scott Elliott’s direction is the best part of Marie and Bruce, especially evident in a scene at a dinner party.

The large table rotates as different bits of conversation hover over the din of the guests. Elliott creates the buzz of a social gathering without sacrificing the dialogue on which the audience is intended to focus.

Clever set pieces easily transform one stage into three locales, and there’s an upbeat quality to the subtle choreography as the actors themselves convert the set.

However, the lagging, blatantly boring dialogue ultimately proves why showing is most always better than telling.

For a dose of Marie and Bruce, stick with the film. For a moving experience in theater, visit The Other Place.

The Other Place is running through May 1st at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. To purchase tickets to The Other Place visit www.mcctheater.org.

Marie and Bruce is running through May 7th at The New Group at Theatre Row. To purchase tickets to Marie and Bruce visit www.Telecharge.com.

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