Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The setting is a facility where patients are housed for four weeks as they are given an experimental antidepressant drug. Two participants in the trial, a young woman and a young man, find themselves drawn to each other while the psychiatrist who is monitoring them struggles against her past demons and depression that are both stimulated by her involvement in the clinical trial and her past connection to the experiment's manager. As the dosage of the new drug increases and the two young patients find themselves in love, the question arises as to whether their emotions are real or just a side effect of the drug.
Prebble poses a lot of interesting questions in The Effect, though there is uncertainty and inconclusiveness in the many issues raised. She touches upon a debate about emotions brought on by the chemicals in drugs: are they less real than those that naturally happen from the chemicals in the brain? Also, are the pharmaceutical companies more focused on their profits than the impact their drugs have on their customers? The playwright has created four realistic, though not entirely fleshed out, characters with sharp dialogue. However, the 100-minute play (in two acts at iTheatre) drags a bit in spots and is also somewhat repetitive in nature.
Miranda Gross and Torey Anderson provide emotionally rewarding performances as the two test patients. As the drug dosage level increases and their attraction to each other intensifies, they deliver well-defined and displayed heightened reactions, raw exposed vulnerabilities, and a deep connection to each other. Stacie Stocker is perfectly level-headed with an even tone in her line readings as the sincere yet direct psychiatrist. But once the cracks in her steely façade start to appear, she expertly displays the effect that depression has on an individual and how it might impact someone in the medical field who has a deep understanding of the disease of depression in an entirely different way. Michael Hanelin plays the manager of the trial who had a past relationship with Stocker's character and, though the details are scarce, you clearly understand from the connection these two actors display that there was love, passion, and incredible pain in their shared past.
Director Joshua Heath achieves fine, tender and realistic performances from his cast. His staging is solid and in one sequence of short scenes that portray an evening the two young test patients spend together is a beautiful, touching, poignant and incredibly theatrical moment.
While Prebble's play may raises more questions than it answers and is repetitive in spots with characters that are somewhat vague, it still makes for an intriguing study of drugs, depression, and the dizzy nature of relationships.
The Effect at iTheatre Collaborative runs through September 23rd, 2017, with performances downtown at the Herberger Theater Center. Information for this show and upcoming productions can also be found at www.itheatreaz.org.
Written by Lucy Prebble