This, That and ‘The Other Place’ at Aspen Fringe Festival

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Erica Tobolski in "The Other Place" at the Aspen Fringe Festival.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Aspen Fringe Festival

Where: Aspen District Theatre; Black Box Theatre

When: Friday, June 12 through Tuesday, June 16

Cost: $25-$35 single events; $75 Flex Pass; $90 All Access Pass; $175 VIP Pass

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

More info:


Friday, June 12, 7:30 p.m.

Aspen District Theatre

Robert Moses Kin Company (dance)

Saturday, June 12, 7:30 p.m.

Black Box Theatre

‘The Other Place’ (theater)

Sunday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.

Black Box Theatre

‘The Other Place’ (theater)

Monday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.

Black Box Theatre

Fringe Lab with playwright Sharr White (theater)

Tuesday, June 16, 7:30 p.m.

Black Box Theatre

Fringe Musical Lab, ‘Lumberjacks in Love’ (musical theater)

After 52 years of directing plays, Jim O’Connor may have seen it all.

But he hasn’t seen anything else quite like Sharr White’s “The Other Place.” The theater veteran is directing the drama about a biophysicist facing an elusive personal crisis, which runs Saturday and Sunday at the Aspen Fringe Festival.

“It works like a mystery,” O’Connor said on a recent afternoon in the kitchen of the Snow Queen Lodge, where he and his cast are staying along with the 20 artists in town for the festival. “The audience is put in a position like reading Agatha Christie. But in this case, it’s not “Who done it?” but ‘What is it?’”

South Carolina-based actor and teacher Erica Tobolski plays Juliana, a prominent medical researcher in search of a cure for dementia and other brain disorders. Robert Pescovitz co-stars as her husband, Ian.

Tobolski played the part in the fall at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, S.C. in a production also directed by O’Connor. Both said watching the audience on the journey of figuring out “The Other Place” is a rare theatrical pleasure.

“It’s like a puzzle,” added Tobolski. “You get one piece, and then another and another and finally it all gets revealed. But it’s about putting it together yourself. For the audience, it’s a very engaging event. It’s not a passive experience, trying to figure out what’s going on here.”

The play ran Off-Broadway and then had a Broadway run with Laurie Metcalf and Daniel Stern in the leads in 2013. Fringe Fest co-artistic director Donald Sage Mackay played Ian in its west coast debut at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.

The Fringe Fest cast – rounded out by local actors Renee Prince and David Pulliam – has been rehearsing in the Black Box Theatre for about a month. It’s a relatively short period of time to get it right, which Pescovitz said has given their performances an instinctual edge.

“Adrenaline kicks in, you make these choices and they’re fully realized,” said Pescovitz. “It’s almost beyond thought. You don’t have time to overthink it.”

In the emotional thriller, Juliana attempts to solve a decade-long personal mystery, searching through fuzzy memories and looking for facts while her experience as a scientist provides little help.

“It’s the most challenging role I’ve done,” said Tobolski. “She is this person who has had control over her life and now she’s trying to figure out where she is on shifting ground – she’s on a big improv.”

Though the play promises intense drama, O’Connor and his cast have found gems of humor that consistently undercut the tension, as they so often do in times of real life tragedy.

“Obviously there are serious elements of the play,” said Pescovitz. “But mixed in is this entertaining evening. It’s not a downer.”

The playwright, Sharr White, is on a hot streak at the moment. He has had three plays on Broadway and Off-Broadway in the last three years, and writes for the Golden Globe-winning Showtime drama “The Affair.”

White will be in town for the festival, which, along with the production of “The Other Place” includes a reading of selections from his other work.

“It really honors the playwright and you get to see different sides of his work,” Fringe Festival co-artistic director David Ledingham said of spotlighting White’s works.

The six-day festival opens Friday night with a dance performance by San Francisco’s Robert Moses Kin Company at the Aspen District Theatre. Celebrating its 20th anniversary season, the award-winning modern dance company is bringing 10 dancers to town for its one-night performance.

After Saturday and Sunday performances of “The Other Place,” the theater portion continues Monday with readings of selections from three additional Sharr White plays – two of them set in Colorado and two of the them works in progress, which White will discuss with the audience in a post-show talkback in the “Fringe Lab” format the festival has used annually.

“Annapurna,” which had an Off-Broadway run in 2013 with Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly, is set in a trailer in Paonia and focuses on a mother and son returning home to an alcoholic man after a 20-year absence. “The True,” set in Albany, is about the foibles of New York state politicians. “Stupid Kid,” a broad farce set in eastern Colorado, is about a man who returns to his family after having been in prison since his teen years.

“It reminds me of Sam Shepard’s early work,” Ledingham said of “Stupid Kid.” “It’s a crazy western journey – we get 20 minutes of that.”

Local actors, including Kent Reed and Eileen Seeley, will be featured in the readings.

The festival closes on Tuesday with a new addition to the festival: a Musical Lab. It will feature a concert reading of the north woods comedy “Lumberjacks in Love,” with local performers Tom Erickson and his daughter, Danielle, alongside Dan “Pastor Mustard” Sadowsky, recent Aspen High grad Emery Major and Ledingham. A talkback with composer James Kaplan will follow.

“It’s not new, but it’s definitely on the fringe,” said Ledingham, who performed in a production of the musical at Milwaukee Repertory Theater and directed one at Creede Repertory Theatre.

If the concert reading goes well, Ledingham said, he hopes to stage the musical at the Wheeler Opera House in the spring.

The combination of edgy work, new plays, dance and music, Ledingham hopes, will provide a diverse ecosystem of artistic discovery for a local audience.

“The idea that someone would come see dance, and then the next night come see [‘The Other Place’], then one of the labs – that’s what we love,” he said. “Being hit by all of these mediums and stories over the course of the weekend and being impacted by that. … It’s stuff that sticks with you days after, which is rare these days.”

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