'The Effect' by Lucy Prebble
Now onstage at Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue
Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Leah Doz and Aris Athanasopoulos
Louis Train, Guest Reviewer
Profound themes in THE EFFECT tackled with a blend of intellectual depth and sensuality
"THE EFFECT" at Coal Mine Theatre is a play that delves into the intricacies of human connection and the complex interplay between mind and body. Connie and Tristan, participants in an antidepressant trial, navigate a tumultuous journey of emotions as they grapple with their deepening mutual attraction. The question underlying this play’s dramatic tension is not whether Connie and Tristan will get together - that’s a given from the opening scene - but why they are attracted to each other. Is it a result of chemical manipulation, or is love? And what is love anyway, if not a neuro-electro-chemical process?
Under Mitchell Cushman's skillful direction and Lucy Prebble's thought-provoking script, "THE EFFECT" tackles these profound themes with a blend of intellectual depth and sensuality.
At its core, "THE EFFECT" wrestles with the enigma of the mind-body problem, delving into the intricacies of our psychological and physical selves. It also sheds light on the prevalence of antidepressant usage and raises ethical questions about the pharmaceutical industry behind it. Yet, the play avoids didacticism and instead adopts a structure reminiscent of a Platonic dialogue, engaging the audience in a captivating and nuanced exploration that stimulates both the intellect and the senses.
The performances from the entire cast are commendable, but Aviva Armour-Ostroff stands out, revealing her character's layers with a captivating air of mystery and tension. Each scene deepens the audience's investment in her portrayal of Dr. Lorna James, unravelling the complexities she embodies.
The inventive set design by Nick Blais makes excellent use of the small space of the stage while nodding to the show’s roots in science and invention (you’ll see what I mean when you see those amazing transforming chairs in action). Likewise, the incorporation of techy music, composed by James Smith, and projection, by Jack Considine, pays homage to the scientific setting of the play while eliciting a visceral response, quickening the pulse of those in attendance.
I've often considered mental health as the uncharted frontier of dramatic storytelling. In our modern era, directors conscientiously avoid perpetuating stereotypes about most marginalized communities, yet, for some reason, the realm of mental illness often receives a pardon. While many scrutinize "Othello" for its problematic aspects, "King Lear," with its profound exploration of madness ("The tempest in my mind..."), is usually exempted. Madness becomes a thrilling plot point, while few writers undertake the necessary research to portray characters with mental illness accurately.
However, "THE EFFECT" stands apart, displaying meticulous attention to detail and heightened sensitivity in portraying these characters (credit again to the remarkable Aviva Armour-Ostroff). In this regard, "THE EFFECT" proves itself truly ahead of its time, breaking new ground in mental health representation on stage.
Running time: approximately two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
The production runs to July 30 at Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Avenue. For tickets, visit coalminetheatre.com.
‘The Effect’ by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Set, Lighting and Prop Design: Nick Blais
Projection Design: Jack Considine
Costume Design: Cindy DEzib
Sound Design and Composition: James Smith
Psychiatry and Mental Health Consultant: Eloise Ballou
Stage Management: Jeff Soucy and Scotia Cox
Performers: Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Aris Athanasopoulos, Leah Doz, Jordan Pettle