In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, Rob Fleming asks, “What came first—the music or the misery? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?” A similar quest for truth is the basis of The Effect by Lucy Prebble (a writer for the HBO series Succession), now in a Chicago premiere with Strawdog Theatre. Two long-term, sequestered test subjects wonder if their desire for each other is a result of real love or the antidepressants they are given. In a world increasingly dependent on drugs to control our feelings, Prebble explores both intense joy and clouded depression—as well as what defines sanity—through test subjects Tristan and Connie and their doctors, Toby and Lorna.
Prebble offers an interesting observation on depression: people view their successes as having external explanations but their failures as their fault. Rather than staying mired in this topic, the story thankfully expands to look at gender and power dynamics, as well as the inherent human biases in scientific studies. Sam Hubbard’s Tristan and Daniella Pereira’s Connie are delightfully bouncy and passionate, sucking the audience in as their relationship develops and erupts. Their attraction weaves together like intricate sailors’ knots, thanks to the work of fight and intimacy coordinator Tristin Hall.
Cary Shoda and Justine C. Turner as the doctors become more interesting in the second act, as their relationships with each other and their patients deepen. The pace of dialogue and acting doesn’t always serve the subtlety of the script. Yet director Elly Green’s cast and the production team have crafted an important performance that leaves a lasting impression. v