REVIEW: “THE EFFECT” NOW PLAYING AT THE GLOUCESTER STAGE COMPANY

“The Effect” Tackles the Timeless Topic of Love

By Tom Hauck

Can love be induced chemically? This ancient question has been asked in Greek mythology and medieval legend, and perhaps most memorably in the 12th century story of Tristan and Isolde, in which a love potion created a powerful amorous attraction between the two even though she, Isolde, was betrothed to the king. Shakespeare explored it too: One of the bard’s most famous love potions was employed by the fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who dribbled the goop in the eyes of the sleeping Lysander, and later Demetrius, causing romantic chaos in the forest. And anyone who was around in the 1960s knows “Love Potion Number 9,” the infectious hit record by the Clovers.

Playwright Lucy Prebble revives this time-honored theme, as well as several others, in the New England Premiere production of The Effect. Set in a drug trial clinic, the play opens with Connie (Susannah Hoffman) and the aptly named Tristan (Mickey Solis) being hired by Dr. Lorna James (GSC favorite Lindsay Crouse) for a four-week trial of what is supposed to be a new anti-depressant medication. Lurking in the background is Dr. Toby Sealey (Brad Hall), who represents Big Pharma, and who, convenient to the many-layered plot, has had a prior romantic relationship with Lorna.

Sure enough, the new drug’s only discernable effect is to rev up the libidos of Connie and Tristan, who quickly get the hots for each other. When Lorna discovers that the drug trial is not what she thought it was, her old lover, the smarmy Toby, being a good soldier for Big Pharma, demands that the trial continue to its possibly dangerous conclusion.

As one can always expect from the Gloucester Stage Company, the actors, without exception, are of the highest caliber. The set by J. Michael Griggs and lighting design by Russ Swift effectively evoke a mood of sterile creepiness. The direction by Sam Weisman is crisp and clean, and he leads these four exceptional players briskly through the many changing moods and themes of the script. Presented in two acts with an intermission, now through July 8. For tickets visit gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.

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