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THEATER REVIEW The Effect
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-10-20

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Playwright: Lucy Prebble

At: Strawdog Theatre Company, 1802 Berenice Ave. Tickets: Strawdog.org; $35. Runs through: Nov. 23

It doesn't take a mind-reader to note that the first flush of love often produces symptoms mimicking those of madness. Adherents of the James-Lang Theory of Emotions have even argued that what we call "love" is merely a label that we affix to the combination of such symptoms, while supporters of Thomas Szasz declare that the source of the eccentric behavior popularly dubbed "lovesickness" is more often spiritual than organic. External substances, too, ( e.g. chocolate ) are sometimes capable of simulating the elation associated with the aforementioned altered state of consciousness.

Since prolonged bouts of despondency are now classified as a "disease" a goal of medical science is the manufacture of synthetic pharmacopoeia promoting these positive biochemical conditions ( albeit conducted under less frivolous auspices ). Scientists then proceed to prescribe "love drugs" to "cure" negative cosmologies—after the appropriate clinical trials, of course—oblivious to the affirmation of ancient beliefs regarding the therapeutic properties of Cupid's arrows inherent therein.

Tristan and Connie are volunteers in one of these trials. They have agreed to ingest increasing doses of an anti-depressant called only "RLU37" in an isolated setting, for a period of four weeks, during which their physical fluctuations will be recorded for further study. The psychological manifestations arising from an artificial euphoria surge, however, can be dangerous, its existential paranoia exacerbated by the subjects' awareness of outside factors influencing their responses ( the practice of including placebos in the chemicals dispensed to test subjects, for example ). Add in the suspicion that the doctors administering the experiment have not been wholly transparent, either—to their human guinea pigs, or to each other.

A lazier playwright could have spun this premise into a sentimental rom-com, scrubbed clean of the reckless impulses at the heart of true romanticism, but Lucy Prebble's survey of her topic looks at the big picture, making for a strikingly balanced view of the hidden agendas and astigmatic precepts driving a Frankenstein industry.

The challenge presented in the performance of this symposial material, illustrated by a mere four people, within a stage picture consisting of two hospital beds and an observation window, is to render them sufficiently deserving of our sympathetic investment for the duration. Director Elly Green elicits superlative text interpretation from her cast—Sam Hubbard and Danielle Pereira as the vulnerable young lovers, Cary Shoda and Justine C. Turner as their allegedly-mature counselors—for every minute of the two hours necessary to achieve the irony of a quest in search of "happiness" ( or absence of sadness, at least ) ending in severe damage to all the participants, innocent victims and guilty stewards alike.


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