Shows Worth Seeing:
By Lucy Prebble
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow St.
Lucy Prebble is known in America primarily as the author of Enron, a fast-talking, rather windy and utterly forgettable play about financial skullduggery that ran for a month on Broadway in 2010. It would be a shame if anyone avoided The Effect out of fear of another dose of such blustery topicality. This play is much better than that, more complex and more moving.
It does have a topical circumstance. The action is set in a private medical facility where twenty-somethings Connie (Susannah Flood) and Tristan (Carter Hudson) have volunteered as paid guinea-pigs in a 4-week trial for an experimental antidepressant. They begin a torrid affair, illicit because the rules forbid physical contact, but they are left unsure whether their attraction is real or induced by increased dopamine levels from the drug. (They know that one or both may be receiving a placebo.) The trial, meanwhile, is supervised by doctors—Lorna James (Kati Brazda) and Toby Sealey (Steve Key)—who are former lovers and who harbor opposing attitudes toward depression. One believes it is a disease, a chemical imbalance eminently treatable with drugs, the other a symptom, the edge of larger, deeper and still inscrutable disorders. Their dispute becomes relevant to the questions the youngsters ask, and their behavior ultimately brings the integrity of the trial into question.
Beautifully acted all around and snappily directed by David Cromer, the play turns out not to be the inconclusive head-scratcher about “who we are” that one fears it will be, even a half hour in (the show runs 1:50, with an intermission). Prebble develops a complex story about love, trust and identity and uses the unique situation of the drug trial to isolate causal factors. That isolation ends up seeming smart and clever rather than contrived or trite. The play is significantly titled The Effect, not The Cause or Cause and Effect, as it is ultimately concerned less with why its dire outcomes occur than with how people ought to behave when faced with such matters and their uncertain causes—much more the dominant human condition than scientific certainty. The seemingly innocuous experiment has some very messy results, and science has few answers to offer on best cleanup practices.