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FLORA LICHTMAN, HOST:
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I am Flora Lichtman filling in for Ira today. Imagine this. You're a brilliant scientist, a biophysicist studying the causes of dementia. And one day, mid-Power Point, you can't recall what you're supposed to say when the next slide comes up. Eventually you learn that the disease you're studying is now the disease you have.
That's the plot of the Broadway play called "The Other Place." It stars Laurie Metcalf as the scientist - and you may remember her as Jackie on the TV show "Roseanne." And joining me now is the man who wrote the play, Sharr White. Thanks for coming into our studio today.
SHARR WHITE: Thanks for having me, Flora.
LICHTMAN: This is an intense play.
WHITE: Yes. Absolutely.
LICHTMAN: Would you agree? Tell us a little bit more about it.
WHITE: Well, I mean, it's really - I do always say that it's a play about the smartest woman on Earth who discovers that actually nothing she knows is true. And it's told really, really, especially from the beginning, really from the first person. She is really the ultimate narrator - sorry, the ultimate unreliable narrator. So as things start to go wrong with her, because it's told so - it's told so closely from her perspective, as she starts to break down, we sort of really experience it along with her.
LICHTMAN: Right. And she is very credible. And I wondered if part of that is because she's a scientist.
WHITE: Well, absolutely. And there is a bit of trickery in there. I mean, the real key in making the play work is establishing that she is indeed the smartest person on Earth. So it opens with - it essentially opens with her giving this - yeah, this medical lecture to other doctors. And you establish really - I think it does establish really quickly that no one can really top her in terms of her intelligence.
LICHTMAN: Right. I mean, you write, actually - I came across an article you wrote, and you say a particular feature of the very smart people in my life is that they think their sheer intelligence can protect them from all manner of harm. And it seems like this is echoed in this play.
WHITE: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean I think in a lot of ways there's something very Greek about the play. I think it definitely has undertones of Oedipus. You know, here is this reigning king whose life is really taken quite suddenly.
LICHTMAN: By the dementia.
WHITE: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Yeah.
LICHTMAN: How did the research go for this play?
WHITE: The research was really intense for me. I mean, I really - I do a lot of research for plays. I love the research. And because - because - I mean, the research around dementia is very fascinating and especially around protein (unintelligible) disorders such as Alzheimer's and early onset Alzheimer's.
My father is a scientist. He actually works with protein structures. So it was a really great thing for me to be able to delve more into the processes that he works with. So you know, so I really just - I think you can go as deeply as you want to into any research but especially with scientific - researching any sort of scientific issue, you can delve very deeply into it.
LICHTMAN: How did you decide when enough was enough? I mean, it seems like you could've made this - you could have even added more had you wanted to.
WHITE: Well, yeah. And there was a tremendous amount when we first began the process. And really a lot of the rehearsal process and putting the script together was about peeling the non-necessary science out. There was a night when I was at home on the couch and I was doing all this research - and I said, you know, and part of the storyline is that she has developed a very plausible drug that can interrupt, you know, the processes of Alzheimer's.
And I was sitting there on my couching - and I had to say to myself, you know what? Actually, you don't have to figure out how to cure Alzheimer's. You just have to figure out...

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