Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Effect: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

It seems like a familiar story -- the evil pharmacologist versus the innocent subjects in his tainted trial in which a new antidepressant drug may be brought to market. And to a degree it is all of that, but there is more. Lucy Prebble's "The Effect" makes us ask ourselves if control over our lives is simply a measurable combination of brain chemicals, and if so, how can that control be manipulated? In the Social Media age, where our every thought is turned into a sales opportunity, "The Effect" makes for a satisfying but uneasy evening of theater.

Connie (Ayelet Firstenberg) and Tristan (Joe Estlack) have volunteered to take part in a test of RLU-37, an anti-depressant developed by Dr. Toby Sealey (Robert Parsons). Tristan is rough-edged, having volunteered solely for the money, while Connie's motivation seems to be an empty period in her life. The drug, which boosts dopamine, at first seems to make both participants giddy and excited, but as the dosages are boosted things start to run off the rails.

Susi Damilano is excellent as Dr. Lorna, who is supervising the trial at the behest of Dr. Toby. She is clearly not the person to be running things, since her own psychological unsteadiness is apparent. Plus, there is an unspoken attraction between her and Dr. Toby.

We in the audience are being manipulated as well. Theatergoers love a love story. But these characters push this reviewer's panic button. When the dosages are boosted time and again, we find ourselves looking under our seat for a place to hide. A glass of wine helped at intermission.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division prepares two paper cups for "The Effect," one with Three Stars and one with a Bangle of Praise. The Bangle is for Firstenberg and Damilano, who steal the show. The makeup department does an amazing job on Damilano at the end of Act Two. At first we wished Tristan would stop stalking Connie around the stage like candidate Trump, but at the same time, all the characters make us question whether love that comes from the heart is ultimately any different than cups of chemicals flowing down a predictable dopamine highway.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street
Second Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through April 28

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