BWW Reviews: PLACEBO Offers False Hope
Like the sugary pills that give the play its name, Melissa James Gibson's Placebo opens with a deceptively promising scene where medical researcher Louise (Carrie Coon) is interviewing the distraught Mary (Florencia Lozano) as a possible participant in a test for a drug that promotes female arousal.
"This feeling, this lack of desire feeling, is really messing with my head and starting to affect everything, like every single part of my life to the point where I feel desperate, very desperately in need of help," pleads Mary.
"That is fantastic, Mary. Really, really great," chirps back Louise, pleased to have found a suitable candidate.
Placebo, we're told, began as a Latin word meaning, "I will please." But when the playwright all but dumps the experimental setup for an exploration of Louise's love life, the more appropriate translation would be, "I will confound."
Louise's live-in boyfriend is the densely intellectual Jonathan (William Jackson Harper), who is trying to quit smoking while struggling through his dissertation on ancient Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder. The two of them communicate in light bantering, mutual criticism and a bit of making out, but we never see them functioning as a healthy couple so watching their relationship deteriorate offers little interest.
Louise winds up having a fling with fellow researcher Tom (Alex Hurt). They "meet cute" over a temperamental vending machine.
Given the material, director Daniel Aukin's production is functional enough, but Lozano is the only actor who doesn't appear locked inside a thinly drawn character.
Set designer David Zinn cleverly blends Louise's home and workplace into the same playing area but Placebo offers little more than false hope.