Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Effect
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of The Invisible Hand and report on the 2018-2019 KeyBank Broadway Series, and David's review of Misery

Olivia Scicolone, Derdriu Ring, Ananias J. Dixon
and Joel Hammer

Photo by Steve Wagner
Inevitably during one of your favorite TV shows you will see an ad for a new "miracle drug" that will cure everything from itchy skin to Crohn's disease. At the end of the ad is a list of side effects and adverse reactions that make up the bulk of the ad's airtime. So how do the pharmaceutical companies get to find out the sickening and in some cases deadly effects of these new chemicals on our bodies? By running extensive controlled drug studies where human guinea pigs are paid a large stipend to take a new drug, playing medical Russian roulette to see what effect it will have on their mind and body. This is the subject matter of award-winning playwright Lucy Prebble's newest stage effort, The Effect.

Psychology major Connie (Olivia Scicolone) meets drifter Tristan (Ananias J. Dixon) at a pharmaceutical test location. They have committed to a four-week trial on a soon to be launched antidepressant. Tristan is an old hand at these clinical trials and, with the added weeks of pay, plans to take use the money to fund an extended backpacking trip. He seems comfortable wherever he is, and does not have a care in the world. Connie is there for more than the pay, as she feels that this experiment will help her in her college studies.

The antidepressant that is administered at increasing dosages works to raise the body's endorphin levels to unnaturally high levels. Dr. Lorna James (Derdriu Ring), who is in charge of the study, does not believe that antidepressants work over extended periods. Her boss, Dr. Toby Sealey (Joel Hammer), whose background is in psychiatry, disagrees. Problems arise when the two test subjects fall in love and the doctors are not sure whether their reactions are organic due to their mutual attraction or a side effect of the drug itself. Thrown into the confusing mix is the fact that Dr. Lorna has been told that one of the subjects is on a placebo but later finds that this may not be true, leading to disastrous consequences.

Director Laley Lippard does wonders in expanding the so-so script into something truly engaging, although the ending is the weakest link of the show.

The four actors manage to transcend the weakness of the script by giving strong and energetic performances. Combining seasoned pros Derdriu Ring and Joel Hammer with Olivia Scicolone and Ananias J. Dixon is a brilliant stroke as the interplay between the characters is well directed and thought out.

Cameron Michalak's sets are simple and no nonsense, which adds to the drama. There are railings in front and behind each row of seating, giving a medical theater feel to the set (for those with physical disabilities, the metal railings may be a problem; be sure to mention any physical challenges when ordering tickets as you may wish to be seated at the front row of sections two and three). Large screens flash vitals taken from the 24-hour monitors that each test subject is required to wear. The lighting design by Marcus Dana is used to great effect in centering the action. In spite of the theater in the round situation, Jeremy T. Dobbins' sound design works extremely well.

The only negatives one might find in the staging would be with the various warning alarms, which are louder than needed to make a point. There is also an extended simulated sex scene that actually becomes boring due to its length. The audience surrounds the stage on all four sides (which is new for Dobama) and, while the actors have to work harder to play all four corners, it nevertheless works well for this production.

Often jarring and at times a bit pedestrian, Dobama Theatre manages to make this bitter pill of a show easier to swallow. Chalk it up to good directing and exceptional acting. The Effect is worth seeing if for nothing more then having a great topic to talk about on the way home.

The Effect, through March 25, 2018, at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Call 216-932-3396 or visit for tickets and information.

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