Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Pleasure Trials
Moxie Theatre
Review by David Dixon

Sutheshna (Suthe) Mani and Sarah Alida LeClair
Photo by Daren Scott
Playwrights often create stories that spark discussion about the themes of their shows. In Moxie Theatre's West Coast premiere production, Sarah Saltwick's The Pleasure Trials asks questions about happiness and pleasure that are not easily solved by the conclusion. Instead, the play will inspire the audience to think about what truly gives them satisfaction in life.

Billed as a comedy (although comedy-drama might be more appropriate, because of more serious scenes in the narrative), The Pleasure Trials features a clinician, Dr. Rachel Milan (Sarah Alida LeClair), and her research assistant, Callie Young (Sutheshna (Suthe) Mani), who are working on a clinical trial for a drug to aid the female libido and FDDD (Female Desire Deficit Disorder). The participants (played by Andrea Agosto) are unaware if they are taking the actual drug or a placebo. Shortly after the trial begins, the main duo's personal and professional lives are consumed by testing the pill.

Saltwick's dialogue treats the subject matter with both respect and humor. Rachel and Callie's interactions with the volunteers are very funny, and the working relationship between the researchers comes across as genuine and realistic. The only sequence that could have been expanded upon is the final conversation between Rachel and Callie. Although it is meant to be meaningful, their talk ends abruptly, which takes away some of the impact of the climax. The plot is still a satisfying one, and director Marti Gobel expertly stages comedic and dramatic moments from the script. In her direction, Gobel uses Yi-Chien Lee's set and Sierra Shreves' lighting to represent Rachel's office and research laboratory. Lee's set feels very lived in the intimate San Diego venue, and Shreves' lighting does a clever job of representing desire. In addition, Gobel is able to get wonderful performances from the cast.

LeClair and Mani depict a yin and yang connection, with the former playing Rachel as reserved and mostly detached, while Mani portrays Callie as eager and impassioned. They are a lot of fun to watch, especially once the characters get deeper into their research. Commanding just as much attention is Agosto, who brings plenty of personality to every participant. Agosto gets some of the biggest laughs in the most moving scenes, because of the artist's total commitment to every role.

Featured onstage as much as the actors is accompanist/cellist/sound designer Sharon Taylor. She plays beautiful music throughout the performance, and uses her instrument to dramatize the sounds of door knocks and phones ringing.

Easy answers are not given in The Pleasure Trials, and that adds to the depth of Saltwick's storyline. Moxie's smart and witty production is a strong opening for their 18th season.

The Pleasure Trials runs through September 11, 2022, at Moxie Theatre at 6663 El. Cajon Blvd Ste N, San Diego CA. Tickets start at $25.00. For tickets and information, please visit or call 858-598-7620.