BWW Review: THE EFFECT at UNICORN THEATRE In Kansas City
"The Effect" by Lucy Prebble and directed by Sidonie Garrett is now playing at the Unicorn Theatre. Prebble's 2012 play won the Critic's Circle Award (British equivalent to the Tony award) for best new play.
Set in a medical research center, the show revolves around the people involved in a pharmaceutical clinical trial. The medication is an antidepressant and some subjects will receive a placebo, while others increasing doses of the drug. Connie and Tristan are two of the subjects being observed by Dr. Lorna James and Dr. Toby Sealey. There is almost an instant magnetic connection between Connie and Tristan, even though Connie has an older boyfriend waiting at home. It is soon unclear if the infatuation they have is a drug induced side-effect, or true love.
The story's two doctor's, conducting the trial, have a romantic history themselves that did not end all that well. The doctor's question each other's motives as one pushes for the success of the medication, while the other tries to uphold ethical standards.
Racing toward an unanticipated conclusion, the show opens a Pandora's box of issues that few would see coming. Indeed, this play poses questions about medical ethics, psychology vs. pharmacology, and big Pharma pressures. Central to all of this is the human question of how love will respond with prescription medication or when someone refuses those same pills.
Amy O'Connor (as Connie Hall) shows a character at an important crossroad in life. O'Connor's sincerity and enthusiasm provides realistic warmth and empathy as the character struggles to live in the moment while contemplating the future. Rufus Burns (as Tristan Frey) bounds with energy and forward movement throughout the process. Burns portrayal builds to increasingly complex layers as the story evolves. He is as agile as an actor as he is with his physical gymnastics.
Todd Lanker (as Dr. Toby Sealey) is the show's villain by proxy as he depicts the big Pharma doctor guiding the clinical toward a positive conclusion. Lanker does well to prevent stereotyping the character by drawing the audience in on the more subtle good qualities he has. Manon Halliburton (as Dr. Lorna James) plays a character with a canyon range of issues of her own. Halliburton proves well-equipped to reveal the multi-faceted doctor with palpable vulnerability, at times, and an intellectual strength that over comes the character's worst fears.
This ensemble is a tight team that make a complex story simple to break down because of performances that intellectually enlighten and passionately ignite. The Unicorn, always innovative in taking on new and challenging shows, launches a midwest premier with an exceptionally well told story, centered in today's realities.
The Unicorn Creative Team includes: Tanya Brown ~ Stage Manager, Emily Swenson ~ Scenic and Projections Designer, Nicole Jaja ~ Lighting Designer, David Kiehl ~ Sound Designer, Georgianna Buchanan ~ Costume Designer, Eric Palmquist ~ Properties Designer, Hannah Taylor ~ Dramaturg, Alex Davila ~ Co-Projections Designer, Amanda Burkhard ~ Scenic Artist,
Taylor Sullivan ~ Master Electrician, Taylor Smith ~ Production Assistant, Chioma Anyanwu ~ Sound Board Operator
"The Effect" continues through September 30, 2018, on the Jerome Stage. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (816) 531-7529, in person at the Unicorn box office, or via The Unicorn website. www.unicorntheatre.org
Photos courtesy of Cynthia Levin and The Unicorn Theatre