Theatre Oxford’s production of “The Other Place,” which premieres this weekend, will immerse audiences in the realities of one mental health condition while raising money for another here in Oxford.
“The Other Place” was first performed Off-Broadway in 2011 and starred Dennis Boutsikaris and Laurie Metcalf, who received an Obie Award and a Tony Award nomination for her performance. Since then, it has been performed all over the country and has had its own Broadway run.
The play will premiere at 7:30 p.m. on April 19 at the Powerhouse, where its current run will be directed by Brian Whisenant and produced by Mary Stanton Knight.
In honor of April being Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, all of the funds raised, besides ticket revenue, will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
“It’s a great way to tie in our last production of the season with raising money for a great cause,” Knight said. “We will be holding a silent auction and raffle on items donated by local and regional businesses each night of the run. All proceeds go directly to Team Fox.”
Throughout the production, the audience observes as the mind of the narrator, Juliana – whose expertise, ironically, is neurology – unravels and dementia slowly ravages the once-brilliant scientist.
The play blurs fact with fiction and draws attention to what it’s like to deal with the diagnosis of a mental health condition, which is something the cast members are passionate about.
Long-time actor Matthew King, who plays Ian, the narrator’s husband, was personally affected by a mental health condition when his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014.
Since then, King has taken advantage of opportunities to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. When he got involved with Theatre Oxford, his first question to its board members was whether they had ever done anything for charities besides their own non-profits. When he found out they hadn’t, King “charged right in.”
“We decided to figure it out as we went,” he said. “This will be our second Parkinson’s fundraiser. We’ve done well in soliciting from artists and local businesses. It’s been a really good effort. Everyone is putting in a lot of hard work.”
Though revenue from the production’s ticket sales will be going to Theatre Oxford, money raised from raffle and art sales, both of which will take place in the main entryway of the Powerhouse, will all be donated to Parkinson’s disease research.
Kayleigh Graham plays the protagonist, Juliana, and though most of her involvement with Theatre Oxford is on the technical side of theatre, she wanted to be back on stage again, under the lights. Graham is proud to play Juliana’s character and said that she is proud to be “inhabiting her for at least a little while.”
“There are many members of Theatre Oxford’s tribe who have had family members and friends affected by this horrible disease,” said Graham. “This is our way of trying to give back and honor those people.”
King, who serves as president of Theatre Oxford’s board of directors, was also happy to get back on stage to perform and challenge himself as an actor.
“I wanted to do something different from what I have been doing,” he said. “I wanted to get my hands dirty again and flex those muscles that I haven’t flexed in a while. This was a great opportunity to do that. To be on stage with talented people, one, is an honor. To be on stage, two, with your friends is an even bigger boon to the spirit.”
In addition to performing again after stints directing, producing and managing, King hopes the play will raise awareness about what it’s like to live with a mental health condition.
“It’s not a lighthearted play, which usually does well in Oxford. It’s hard material – very emotional. You get to see all of the different aspects of humanity,” he said. “People need to see it because it brings attention to mental health. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia – they’re all neurological disorders, and we have a good population here in Oxford that is not well-represented.”
When King’s father was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he sought out a support group in Oxford but was told that there was not an active one. King said that instead, after visiting local hospitals and neurology clinics, his father was told that he would likely have to travel as far as Memphis or Tupelo to find such a group.
“I really want as many people to come see it as possible. It’s a great effort put together with a lot of love, and we’ve had a wonderful time,” King said. “It’s a good opportunity to bring mental health into the conversation and get people in the door to see a well-performed show, if I do say so myself.”