Connie and Tristan are volunteers in a four-week residential study of a new anti-depressant, RLU37. The drug, as it happens, contains dopamine, the chemical associated with general good feeling and, specifically, with love. One of the doctors involved calls RLU37 “Viagra for the heart”.
Such is the premise of Luce Prebble’s fine play The Effect, at the Barrow Street Theater. Connie and Tristan quickly fall in love. But what is this thing called love? Is it just the effect of the drug? This is the central question of the play, but it gets more complicated. One of the pair, we learn early in the second act, is on a placebo.
We meet the couple at the intake interview at the clinic, and words are projected on the set when they take The Stroop Test. In The Stroop Test, participants are presented with words in a variety of colors, one at a time. They’re asked to identify the color, and their associations with the word determine how quickly they respond. It makes for a really cool scene to see the supertitles as Connie and Tristan take the test.
Prebble thickens the fabric of the play with the characters of the two doctors running the program. Lorna and Toby have been lovers; he got her the job at the clinic. They sort out their relationship as the younger couple sort out their own. The play introduces the theme of professionalism when Lorna gives romantic advice to Connie.
Director David Cromer creates a great contrast between the two sets of partners. It’s a marvelous reflection of life to hear the doctors discuss their past relationship in very different emotions than Connie and Tristan discuss their present relationship. Cromer keeps everything sharply in focus without ever being heavy-handed.
Cromer gives us a giddy, even nervous, couple in Connie and Tristan. It reflects an aspect of romance, certainly, but we never get to see them awaken into a tender young love.
The evening’s best performance comes from Carter Hudson as Tristan. He has a wonderfully fluid and relaxed physical life that expresses his emotional life well. As Connie, Susannah Flood fares less well, serviceable but emotionally unsatisfying. Steve Key and Kati Brazda, as Toby and Lorna, are suitably reserved until their confrontational scene, when they express complex emotions eloquently.
The Effect has intrusive sex with no dramatic purpose, but it generally explores its themes well. Barrow Street has given us a thoughtful, intelligent production.