Studio Theatre’s D.C. area premiere of The Effect by Lucy Prebble is an intensive study of love and depression in the psycho-pharmacological age, brought to life by a quartet of very talented actors and some truly innovative visual design.
The Effect is primarily about the relationship between Connie (Katie Klieger) and Tristan (Rafi Silver), two participants in a month-long clinical trial for a new antidepressant. Monitored by Dr. Lorna James (Gina Daniels) and her superior, Dr. Toby Sealey (Eric Hissom), Connie and Tristan find themselves falling for one another. In an environment where they are both taking an experimental antidepressant, Connie and Tristan are left to sort out for themselves what part of their attraction is genuine and what part is just the rush of dopamine supplied by the drug.
Klieger and Silver’s performances are deeply engaging, and the immediately obvious chemistry between the two leads combined with sensitive direction by David Muse brings this surprisingly insightful work to life. In a work that could easily toe the line between deeply poignant and overly cerebral, the leads bring a dose of much needed humanity. Daniels is also a standout as Dr. Lorna James, breathing poignancy and wit into a sensitively written role. Hissom does an admirable job as Dr. Toby Sealey as well, but Sealey’s character is comparatively underdeveloped when taken in context of the three other leads.
The other major player in Studio Theatre’s production of The Effect is the outstanding visual design. Scenic Designer Luciana Stecconi attempted to bring the sterility and austerity of a hospital corridor to the stage, and the central stage’s stark beauty and minimal use of props never distracts, allowing the actors to shine through. The physical space of Studio’s Theatre 4 is very intimate, and the central placement of the stage allows the audience to look directly through the stage while still drawing the eye to the onstage action. Lighting Designer Jesse Belsky and Projections Designer Alex Basco Koch bring Stecconi’s vision to life, with the wall to wall projections and lighting work laying the groundwork for some truly innovative blocking and scenic transitions.
The small environmental touches bring the work together as well – the audience is sorted into two “test groups” for seating, with ushers dressed in lab coats and the upstairs bar operating under the pretense of “self medication” before the performance and during intermission. The Effect is a profoundly moving and surprisingly funny must-see, brought to life by some truly electrifying talent and unforgettable visuals.
The Effect runs at Studio Theatre through October 29.