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Find something unfamiliar in 'The Other Place'

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Craig Johnson directs from left, Mark Bransford, Stef Stafford and Logan Stewart during a rehearsal for "The Other Place" at the Black Box Theatre on Thursday, January 30, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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When Stef Stafford was four or five years old, she briefly got lost at the drug store in her home town of Waseca.

Stafford was with her mom, but got distracted by scratch-and-sniff books. After pausing to smell the roses, as it were, Stafford looked up and her mom was gone.

"That experience just scared the wits out of me," Stafford said. "It was disorienting."

Stafford, who plays Juliana in the Rochester Civic Theatre’s production of "The Other Place," draws on that experience for her performance.

Stafford recalls going from aisle to aisle to find her mother, and how unfamiliar and unfriendly the small-town drug store suddenly seemed.

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"When you’re in a panic, everything looks different," Stafford said.

In the contemporary drama by Sharr White, Juliana, whose life takes a turn she didn’t expect, experiences similar moments of disorientation. Stafford’s experience helps her step into the challenging role that, in 2013, earned Laurie Metcalf multiple awards including a Tony nomination for her off-Broadway performance.

Conveying that confusion with a convincing performance takes a good performer and some balance, said Craig Johnson, director of the Civic’s production.

"What does it feel like when you lose certainty in life?" Johnson said. "You have to portray with great confidence and certainty what that uncertainty looks like."

With an understated set, performed in the Black Box theater space with a cast of four, the show will rely heavily on Stafford’s performance and White’s script as the audience works to figure out what is happening along with Juliana. To say more might spoil things -- but it’s likely not what you think.

"It’s not spectacle theatre, it’s evocative theatre," Johnson said.

Confusion can manifest itself in multiple ways, Stafford said, which is reflected in the script.

"There are times I would read the script and think Juliana is just awful," she said. "(But) like in life, you have to go to that place of compassion."

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The show is meant to take the audience on that same journey of empathy and discovery, Stafford added.

Touching on health issues, the show is produced in partnership with Mayo Clinic. At the beginning, the audience is addressed by Juliana who is giving a presentation at a drug conference.

"You get the sense that she’s brilliant, she has her act together, she’s funny, she’s sharp," Johnson said.

Things then begin to change. (Which is fortunate for anyone who doesn't want to sit through a 75-minute pharmaceutical presentation.)

"You start to wonder, are we in good hands with her?" Johnson said.

Following Stafford as a performer, we are. But if you’re following Juliana, you could find yourself lost in an unfamiliar aisle.

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What: "The Other Place"

When: Feb. 7 - Feb. 23

Where: Rochester Civic Theatre, 20 Civic Center Dr. SE

Tickets: Adult $31; Senior $26; Student $21. Available at rochestercivictheatre.org , or call the box office at 507-282-8481.

9b82e4acf4e56895dc954f174c037a54.jpg
Stef Stafford, right, and Mark Bransford rehearse their parts in "The Other Place" at the Black Box Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

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