Unicorn opener shines light on lab experiments

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By Bob Evans

“The Effect” sheds light on the laboratory tests for Depression drugs, the possible effects of such drugs, relationships created during a study, and the possibility that lab studies might go terribly wrong.

The Unicorn Theatre opens their 45th season with the dark comedy, “The Effect” a play that questions medical technology and the drugs that people intake to ward off or help mask Depression. Drugs do not cure Depression, but do change the way an individual feels when in the grasp of Depression. With each person, individual causes and reactions can vary, so different prescribed medications create differing effects. “The Effect” brings those possibilities into question.

To arrive at dosage levels, chart effectiveness of newly formatted drugs, and prepare drugs for marketing, human laboratory tests help discover the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the drugs and some of the side-effects a drug may create. In this case the real drug and a placebo may help discover a new treatment. But, the side-effects that loom as extremely dangerous in this play.

The laboratory study in “The Effect” involves a male and female “lab rat” who ingest a new pill that enhances their libido to help them feel better and overcome the feelings of Depression. Two doctors monitor and record the daily changes as the drug is introduced into their bodies and how the subjects react to increased doses. One doctor believes that chemistry controls all outcomes while another believes that emotional levels play a role as well.

Part of the unforeseen problem lies in what degree of a relationship is drug induced and what part is emotional bonding as the pair continue in this medical laboratory study. Two vastly different subjects come into play as the female and male (Amy O’Connor and Rufus Burns) qualify to undergo scientific testing of a new drug to alter symptoms of Depression. They are monitored by the medical team of played by Manon Halliburton and Todd Lanker. As their four-week study progresses, their attraction buds, blooms, and decays as they move further and further through the study.

The human guinea pigs go off course and create situations not planned by the scientific team. And, with medical tests, unforseen circumstances can create problems. This is the case for “The Effect.” The human element disrupts the scientific study of both doctors and patients.

For this production, the set is minimal to keep the medical office/room atmosphere. Costumes also are simple and put for focus on the characters rather than their costumes to convey the theme. The technical aspects of “The Effect” all converge to make a strong setting for play. Sound, lighting, projection, props all make the play more sterile and simple for the viewer.

What stands out most is the acting. For this show, the chemistry between the two pairs is paramount to the believability and success of the show. O’Connor and Burns seem to be polar opposites until the drugs alter their thoughts and affection. The doctors, played by Halliburton and Lanker, reunite after a past that neither can forget. The study rekindles their past emotions. Probably the strongest scene in the play occurs between Halliburton and Lanker in Act II. Their energy is magnetic and powerful. The scene only works because of their investment in the characters.

“The Effect” presents interesting questions and touches on many issues, but contains little action and movement because it seems mostly segmented with the two couples and not a lot of interaction with the other couple. While the play will leave the audience with items to ponder, the message is subtle. As with the tested drug, each patron exits with differing thoughts.

“The Effect” opened Saturday night, Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 30. Tickets may be purchased in person at the box office, by phone, or through The Unicorn Theatre website.

Tags: The Unicorn Theatre, “The Effect”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of Unicorn Theatre, Cynthia Levin/Unicorn Theatre and The Unicorn Theat

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