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Review: PLACEBO at Out Of Pocket Productions

Now through May 21st.

Review: PLACEBO at Out Of Pocket Productions

After a successful play reading in 2017 and a long hiatus due to COVID (for more of the backstory, see Jeff Siuda's director's note), Out of Pocket Productions is finally presenting "Placebo", a quirky and thought-provoking play by Melissa James Gibson, at Rochester's MuCCC.

Louise (Stephanie Roosa) has a job as a Doctoral candidate doing research on women's sex drives. Her actual focus is female asexual fantasy, a complicated topic she explores mainly through her conversations with Mary (Joanne Brokaw), the only research subject we meet in the play. Louise's partner of four years and roommate, Jonathan (Jason Rugg) is seven years into his dissertation on Pliny (pronounced like skinny) The Elder, but the stress of completing the dissertation is mounting more-and-more each day. Tom (Danny Kincaid-Kunz) is Louise's coworker in the research lab, who frequently bumps into her in the break room where he quickly becomes a confidant and spiritual adviser of sorts as she talks through the complexities of her research, her relationship, and bigger philosophical questions about happiness, sex, and love.

"Placebo" was a slow burn for me, and it takes a few beats (about halfway through Act I) before it really becomes engaging, but once the characters start digging into the play's philosophical meat and presenting questions for the audience to ponder, I found myself...well, doing a lot of pondering. What does true happiness feel like, and how do we know we're happy? Do we even deserve to be happy? (one of the best lines of the play is "happiness is so bougie"). Why is sex and intimacy so complicated? Are there pharmaceutical solutions to these conundrums, or are we humans left to navigate these murky waters alone? My test of an impactful piece of theatre is a) if it engages you in the moment, and b) if it sticks in your brain and keeps you thinking after you leave the building. "Placebo" definitely passes this test.

In addition to being well-written and thought-provoking, OOP's production of "Placebo" also features some stellar acting performances. In particular, Jason Rugg's Jonathan really exuded that burned-out, morose sorry-for-yourself energy that the character calls for, toggling between dejection and frenzied panic that can't be easy to portray. Also, Kincaid-Kunz brings great comic relief as Tom, whose wiry high-strung character brings a lot of comic relief to the production, and also seems to act as Louise's unofficial therapist, which struck me as really smart writing.

"Placebo" is a clever production and well-written play that will have you pondering big questions for days after you leave the MuCCC.

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