Spine: Love in the Time of Big Pharma, ‘The Effect’ at Studio Theatre

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Big Pharma is not only big, it’s growing bigger by the panic attack, by the back spasm, by the botched terrorist attack.

Gina Daniels and Rafi Silver in ‘The Effect.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

We want that pill that makes us happy because that happy is our latest knight in shining armor come to whoosh our blues away.

The Effect, now playing at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4, plunges its audience right into that next toxic brew: the newest, latest anti-depressant guaranteed to leave you happy.

And we are all part of the experiment.

Lucy Prebble is our playwright: The Sugar Syndrome and Enron, fame, with Enron reaching Broadway in 2010.

With The Effect, she combines the stimulus of sugar with the infinite corporate greed that Enron embodied, and then she goes after Pharma.

But it’s truly a play about love and the choices we humans make, and the brain that affects those choices, whether that brain is on anti-depressants or not.

And it’s that ethical dimension that gives The Effect its effect. For love is the biggest drug of all, and it’s constantly playing trickster on our neuro-pathways.

Hubris seems the psychological disease that affects every generation. With Big Pharma, it is the grandiose assumption that we understand the mysteries of the brain while ignoring the mind. Hence, “we have a drug for that, and that, and that, and that…”

And business is booming. Whether we are talking about opioids, where on an average day in America 650,000 prescriptions are dispensed, or psychiatric drugs, where one in 6 Americans take one or another, with antidepressants being the most common.

Rafi Silver and Katie Kleiger in The Effect. Photo by Teresa Wood.

We want that normal; we want that happy; and we want it no matter how strange, terrifying, or disturbed the world is.

After all, if you have the money, it’s all so easy. And if you can’t get that prescription, there’s always the street corner.

And then, of course, there’s love, which is what The Effect is really about, not the spiritual kind, and not just the romantic kind either. The Effect is also about that love that binds us together and won’t let us go.

Studio has put together a stellar cast, led by Gina Daniels who plays Dr. Lorna James, the consummate professional with an almost fatal flaw. Daniels navigates that flaw to perfection.

The young couple, Connie and Tristan (Katie Kleiger and Rafi Silver), are almost polar opposites. Kleiger and Silver fan that polarization to a red heat, as their chemistry with one another keeps sparking.

Eric Hissom’s Dr. Toby Sealey rounds out this cast of couples as the slickest pill pusher you’ll ever meet.

David Muse directs.

Eric Hissom and Gina Daniels in ‘The Effect.’ Photo: Teresa Wood.

Love enters the mind as drugs enter the brain, so the mind has no choice but to raise havoc in the brain, while the brain, in turn, turns the mind to jelly.

And yet we continue to think we know how to control these forces of nature and the chaos-effects of technology.

We do, indeed, have no pill for that.

Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes, including one intermission.

The Effect plays through October 29, 2017, at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4 – 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.