“Being aware of your own bias rarely means you can affect it.” Depending on your point of view, that could be a very profound or an utterly dismal declaration. In The Effect, the 2012 play by British author Lucy Prebble, it’s spoken by a psychologist to a student who is participating in a new anti-depressant’s trial run. Connie (Daniella Pereira) is aware of the point of each question she gets from Dr. James (Justine C Turner), or at least she thinks she is, but what she can’t tell is whether the feelings she’s developing for another test subject are real. He and the play ask whether it matters.
How Sick do you have to be to be Sick?
Connie is a bit unusual in that pharmaceutical trials aren’t normally conducted with women. Dr. James says it’s absolutely imperative for ethical reasons that there can be no possibility that a test subject is pregnant. Connie is in a relationship, but it’s the kind where she can be kept in isolation from the outside world for a month on what is basically a whim. However, avoiding sex becomes harder when she meets Tristan (Sam Hubbard), who is no less charming for being a professional test subject. He’s always chipper, and while Connie is inclined to believe this is an imposition of the anti-depressant, Tristan takes the view of in vino veritas. Dr. Toby Sealy (Cary Shoda), who is developing the drug, is delighted by the prospect of introducing an anti-depressant effect on non-depressed people, although Dr. James points out that’s indistinguishable from a narcotic if you don’t arbitrarily label people who feel depressed below a certain level as “depressed.”
Two Relationships in Very Different Places
Prebble’s play doesn’t lack for emotional heart, in this writer’s view, although it comes just as much from the relationship between Dr. James and Dr. Sealy as Connie and Tristan. Dr. James isn’t trained for clinical research and has never conducted a drug trial before, leading her to make some questionable decisions. Turner’s performance is persuasive nonetheless as a woman with very conflicted feelings about her vocation and whether her own depression diagnosis is meaningfully different from her natural personality. Dr. Sealy makes just as good an argument that having the ability to change parts of yourself that were once considered your essence is actually pretty cool, but his work mainly depends on his charisma, which Shoda has in spades. Regardless of whether they’re under their influence of anything, their romance is a lot more mature than Connie and Tristan’s and equally complicated.
Strawdog Theatre Zooms in on Big Questions
You too may conclude that Director Elly Green gets incisive performances from all four of her actors. Sam Hubbard as Tristan is all twitchy nerves and euphoric self-confidence. He’s also hilarious. Daniella Pereira’s Connie is more analytical and loves to analyze others, but is much less confident in her assessments. They balance each other well, even if their attraction is being driven by pharmaceutical intervention or just the natural rush of a new experience. Prebble was one of several British playwrights who became interested in the soul as flesh at about the same time. But while other plays have taken a large-scale approach to exploring whether there’s really such a thing as a true self or authentic desire if we’re all just the products of chemical reactions, hers is much more focused on what these questions mean on the individual level. The result is affecting; she leaves it for us to decide whether the same could have been achieved with a pill.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Title: THE EFFECT
Playwright: Lucy Prebble
Director: Elly Green
Sam Hubbard (Tristan Frey), Daniella Pereira (Connie Hall), Cary Shoda (Dr. Toby Sealey) and Justine C. Turner (Dr. Lorna James)
Yeaji Kim (scenic and projection design), Leah Hummel (costume design), Claire Chrzan and John Kelly (lighting design), Isaac Mandel (sound design), Hillarie Shockley (props design), Tristin Hall (intimacy and violence design), Kamille Dawkins* (assistant director), Madeline Scott (stage manager) and Alyssa Maldonado (assistant stage manager)
Through November 23, 2019
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 4 pm
1802 W. Berenice Ave.
Chicago’s Northcenter neighborhood
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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