Since the emergence of antidepressants, pharmaceutical companies have been tripping over themselves to get as many people on them as possible. Perhaps getting their share of the tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue ultimately justifies the need to get any advantage in this very competitive industry. Enter the backdrop of the play “The Effect,” now showing at Fells Point Corner Theatre in Baltimore. I find it ironic a clinical trial of these drugs, by a fictitious company, set the stage (literally and figuratively) for a most unusual story. It ventures into contemporary issues of the kind inquisitive and daring thinkers throughout history have contemplated. What causes sadness? What is love? Can we develop a medicine for either? And somewhere in the mix: if there is a ton of money to be made, does it even matter?
I found the characters more cerebral in their physical and verbal displays and I give much credit to the actors for being so steady and natural in their performance.
One might read into the title of British playwright Lucy Prebbles’s story, “The Effect,” as being a diligent illustration of mood variations, occurring from usage of antidepressants and other types of drugs. However, it would appear in the early acts of the play, which centers on two young participants in the study, Tristan (played by Nate Krimmel) and Connie (played by Meghan Stanton), that it may actually be a drug-induced love story. There is much more, of course, and its depth expands as it is discovered by the doctors there are side effects to the drugs Tristan and Connie take. The two begin with mild flirtations, but then it gradually explodes into cosmic, lustful compulsions. Naturally, curiosity leads to the question of whether or not it affects libido and the doctors are all but too scientific to resist prodding to see where it leads.
Tristan and Connie’s affair is not the only one on display in this story. Doctor Lorna James (played by Mia Robinson) and Doctor Toby Sealey (played by Gareth Kelly) drop several hints of the bashed relationship between them. Their past becomes quite evident early on, which comes off with a dose of coarseness, but it’s amusing when the scenes transition into Tristan and Connie’s intensifying passion.
The cast in this performance was very fluid and (forgive the pun) their chemistry surprised me. My first impulse at watching Krimmel and Stanton as the focal characters incapable of curbing their carnal desires was to swipe left. However, by intermission, I was more receptive of them actually hitting it off. Robinson and Kelley as Drs. James and Sealey had their spicy and dicey moments, which were quite entertaining. I was quite amused when they trowelled into discussions that question what defines us as people at the biological level and so forth. I found the characters more cerebral in their physical and verbal displays and I give much credit to the actors for being so steady and natural in their performance.
Director Andrew Porter has stitched together a provocative play and his personal dedication of the performance to a brother he lost to depression is a very somber reminder of the seriousness of the theme on display. The set has a creative layout, having the beds at the lower, front part of the stage and the clinic just above it. Set designer Bruce Kapplin and prop designer Gaya Sel certainly stimulate the visuals nicely. I thought the lighting and sound were seamless in transitions, so much credit to Chris Allen and the director for those nuances that are truly important for the collective effort of putting a really good show together. Finally, I have to mention Jonathan Rubin for directing the fight and intimacy scenes, which were much hotter than I anticipated.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.
“The Effect” is running now until March 17 at Fells Point Corner Theatre in Baltimore. For more information and tickets click here.