Friday, November 21, 2014

The Science Behind The Other Place

When Dragon started work on The Other Place, I wanted to learn more about the science presented in the play. I wasn't clear on the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's, which seems to get the most press, and wondered what the latest statistics on memory related disease was in America. Like cancer, in my experience, it seems to be a disease that hits every family in some way.

According to the national Alzheimer's Association:
"Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia.   
Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.  
Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as "senility" or "senile dementia," which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging."
 The Mayo Clinic further says:
"Memory loss generally occurs in dementia. However, memory loss alone doesn't mean you have dementia. Dementia indicates problems with at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and impaired judgment or language, and the inability to perform some daily activities such as paying bills or becoming lost driving.  
Dementia can make you confused and unable to remember people and names. You also may experience changes in personality and social behavior. However, some causes of dementia are treatable and even reversible."

I know that I'd heard that you can't officially diagnose Alzheimer's, and in the play they reference the fact that they can't officially diagnose Juliana's illness while she was still alive, which made me wonder about the diagnosis process and the truth of that statement.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Difficulty with complex tasks
  • Difficulty with planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
  • Problems with disorientation, such as getting lost
  • Personality changes
  • Inability to reason
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
Further, the National Institute of Health's Institute on Aging says this about Alzheimer's: 


"Alzheimer’s disease can be definitively diagnosed only after death, by linking clinical measures with an examination of brain tissue and pathology in an autopsy. But doctors now have several methods and tools to help them determine fairly accurately whether a person who is having memory problems has “possible Alzheimer’s dementia” (dementia may be due to another cause) or “probable Alzheimer’s dementia” (no other cause for dementia can be found). 
To diagnose Alzheimer’s, doctors may:
  • Ask questions about overall health, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality
  • Conduct tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language
  • Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem
  • Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to distinguish Alzheimer’s from other possible causes for symptoms, like stroke or tumor
These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the person’s memory is changing over time. 
Early, accurate diagnosis is beneficial for several reasons. It can tell people whether their symptoms are from Alzheimer’s or another cause, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medications, or other conditions that may be treatable and possibly reversible."
Since Alzheimer's is by far the largest subset of dementia, I wondered how prevalent the disease is. The Alzheimer's Association reports that around 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease. Almost two-thirds of those Alzheimer's patients are women. In her 60s, a woman's estimated lifetime risk for developing Alzheimer's is 1 in 6. For breast cancer it is 1 in 11. Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death among Americans. In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion. 

Not only does it take a severe emotional toll, it takes a massive financial toll on America as Alzheimer's disease is the most expensive condition in the nation. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer's will total an estimated $214 billion, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. 

Nearly one in every five dollars spent by Medicare is on people with Alzheimer's or another dementia. The average per-person Medicare spending for those with Alzheimer's and other dementias is three times higher than for those without these conditions. The average per-person Medicaid spending for seniors with Alzheimer's and other dementias is 19 times higher than average per-person Medicaid spending for all other seniors.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's but there a whole lot of research being directed in the area. Some traction has recently been made on helping to delay the inevitable progression and there are a number of clinical trials open to patients to help test new solutions. 




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who Is Sharr White?


Sharr White, age 44, has been writing plays since the 1990s. They've been presented around the country, including at South Coast Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Theatre's Directors Lab and Key West Theatre Festival. The Other Place marked his first major New York appearance, and became his first Broadway show.

Sharr White in Playbill
Born in Frederick, Maryland, Mr. White moved to Southern California when he was young. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado for his junior high and high school years. And after high school he moved back to Southern California, took some time off, and worked in a warehouse for a few years. Mr. White eventually went back to school where he planned to major in biology since his father in in the sciences. He also took some acting classes and decided to switch to theatre. Mr. White then moved to San Francisco to go to the A.C.T. [American Conservatory Theatre] program. He didn't get accepted into the program and ended up at San Francisco State for a little bit and then jumped over to A.C.T. and finished the acting program there. He started writing at A.C.T., though they didn't have any writing classes.

Mr. White graduated with an M.F.A. in 1993 and was hooked on writing, so he moved to New York. He gave up on acting to solely focus on writing. Mr. White says "From there it was a long process for me, because I didn't go to grad school for writing, I didn't go to any writing programs, I wasn't formally trained at all. I felt like when I reached a point in beginning to develop I didn't have anyone to turn to, which was pretty isolating. My time in New York has been about writing, writing, writing. I did some self-producing in the '90s. The big break was with Humana Festival in 2006. I was able to start surfacing to people, and I got a couple of commissions. It's been a long process to get [to Broadway]."

The Other Place, was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, and opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from December 2012 (in previews) through March 3, 2013. The play, directed by Joe Mantello, starred Laurie Metcalf and Daniel Stern. It was originally produced Off-Broadway by the MCC Theater in 2011. The Other Place received two Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and Outstanding Actress In A Play (Laurie Metcalf). Laurie Metcalf won an Obie Award, Performance. Metcalf was nominated for the 2013 Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. 





Friday, October 31, 2014

For Halloween - The Raven

Since we're running The Woman In Black this Halloween evening, I thought it was fitting to pair it with this American classic. Happy Halloween!

The Raven - Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, 
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— 
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, 
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— 
            Only this and nothing more.” 

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; 
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor. 
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow 
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— 
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore— 
            Nameless here for evermore. 

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain 
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; 
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating 
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door— 
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;— 
            This it is and nothing more.” 

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, 
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; 
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, 
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, 
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;— 
            Darkness there and nothing more. 

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, 
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; 
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token, 
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?” 
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”— 
            Merely this and nothing more. 

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, 
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before. 
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice; 
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore— 
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;— 
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!” 

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, 
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore; 
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; 
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— 
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— 
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more. 

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, 
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, 
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven, 
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore— 
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!” 
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, 
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore; 
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being 
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door— 
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, 
            With such name as “Nevermore.” 

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only 
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. 
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered— 
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before— 
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.” 
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.” 

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, 
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store 
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster 
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore— 
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore 
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.” 

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling, 
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door; 
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking 
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore— 
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore 
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.” 

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing 
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core; 
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining 
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er, 
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er, 
            She shall press, ah, nevermore! 

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer 
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor. 
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee 
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; 
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” 
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!— 
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, 
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted— 
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore— 
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!” 
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil! 
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore— 
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, 
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— 
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” 
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting— 
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! 
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! 
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! 
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” 
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” 

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting 
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; 
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming, 
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; 
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor 
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Woman In Black On Film

You might have heard about The Woman In Black because it was recently turned into a film. It featured Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter and Ciaran Hinds. It has more than two actors and some seriously gorgeous scenery. It got a Rotten Tomato score of 66% and did moderately well at the box office. It's got its flaws (I'm not a fan of the movie ending) but it's a wonderfully atmospheric film. To get a feel for it, watch the trailer below.



I read recently that there's actually a sequel in the works. It's called The Woman In Black: Angel of Death and it's slated for release in 2015. It takes place at Eel Marsh House during World War II - some Londoners end up at the old house to escape the Blitz and run into the home of The Woman In Black. The first trailer was just released. 



Did you see the movie? What did you think? Will you check out the sequel?