Lucy Prebble’s engaging play about a clinical drug trial gone awry makes its debut this week at the Actors’ Warehouse. (Warning: Side effects may include euphoria and/or heartbreak.)
Two summers ago, Bradley T. Hicks was in New York City and happened to catch an off-Broadway performance of playwright Lucy Prebble’s The Effect at the Barrow Street Theater.
“It was coming to the end of its run and the performance was exceptional,” Hicks said. “The story leapt off the stage, and I knew it would be my next challenge.”
Returning to Gainesville, Hicks pitched the play to a couple of community theaters. The Actors’ Warehouse took the bait.
The play opens there on Friday night at 8 and continues for three weekends. Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 3. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students, seniors and military).
(Note: The play contains strong adult language and content and is not suitable for anyone under age 18.)
The Effect focuses on two young people who have volunteered for a clinical drug trial. When the guinea pigs take a new antidepressant and fall for each other, the doctors in charge of the study try to determine whether their passion is real or fueled by the drug.
“The Effect is a love story between the mind and the soul, between thoughts and feelings, ourselves and our choices. Perhaps also between people,” Hicks said. “It’s about better living through pharmacology.”
The two test subjects are psychology student Connie (Kate Osbron) and class clown Tristan (Justin Clement). The trial’s organizers, psychiatrist Dr. Lorna James (Mandy Fugate) and drug developer Dr. Toby Sealey (Jorge DeJesus), have trouble keeping the drug-crossed lovers compliant with the study.
And that begs the questions: The patients have no idea what they are really feeling, do they? Then why does this feel like love?
“Connie is the character many will relate with the most,” Hicks said. “She is hesitant to participate in the trial in the first place, but has a natural curiosity that keeps her questioning her experiences throughout the play.”
Big Pharma is an unseen character in The Effect. The drama questions society’s insatiable appetite for prescription drugs that, in Hicks’ humble opinion, “keep people from feeling what they’re feeling.”
“I believe that the ultimate point Ms. Prebble is trying to convey is that in today’s perhaps over-medicated society, we must be careful to always allow feelings and emotions to be expressed, regardless of the various issues going on upstairs,” he said.
“I think the playwright wants us to feel as if our emotions are valid, regardless of their characterization, and that we are not alone in either our joy or our pain.”
Hicks, who previously directed Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, said he is blessed with a talented cast in his Actors’ Warehouse directorial debut.
“They are the real reason this show is so great,” he said. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked and truly brought this story to their own lives for the past two months.”
The director referred to Fugate as “a rock star” for her portrayal of Dr. James, a character who has her own issues to confront.
“Mandy’s range is amazing — breathtakingly comedic to heartbreaking, even within this single role,” he said. “She’s stellar, perhaps the linchpin to the play, and a true voice for theater in this community.”
Fugate was seen most recently at the Actors’ Warehouse as Mrs. Van Buren in Intimate Apparel. She’s also worked onstage and behind the scenes on many productions at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.
Opposite Fugate is DeJesus, whose pill-pushing Dr. Sealey plays a man who is difficult to like, “but only because we see him through the eyes of someone who has seen through him,” Hicks said.
DeJesus, a veteran of Gainesville theater, was last seen as the character Man in Se Llama Cristina at the Actors’ Warehouse.
Clement, who plays Tristan, is a newcomer to the Actors’ Warehouse stage after making his Gainesville acting debut earlier this year as the conniving Mr. Manningham in Angel Street at the Acrosstown.
“He’s perfect as the free-spirited soul [Tristan] trying to find himself in a new love,” Hicks said. “His range is also on clear display as he takes on the side effects of being on a clinical drug trial.”
Hicks said that The Effect is powerful theater because it takes on several interesting dichotomies, both in the realm of the theater and of life itself.
“It asks but doesn’t quite answer the questions of if we are best represented in the idea of love by our feelings, our desires, our debts, or our practicality. It asks if a story can be tragic if the lovers end up together, and if it can be heroic if the protagonist gives up in the end.”
Hicks added: “It’s a truly lovely piece of storytelling.”
— Noel Leroux
at the Actors’ Warehouse
619 NE 1st St.
Gainesville, FL 32619
Performances: Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. through June 3.
Tickets: $20 general admission; $15 students and seniors.
For further info, visit the Actors’ Warehouse website.
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