Unicorn’s New Season Opens With Great ‘Effect’
The Unicorn Theatre chose an intriguing story to kick off its 45th season. The play’s title, The Effect, is blah enough that people might not give it much further thought. But the title doesn’t do the play justice. On this stage, psychology, ethics and pharmaceuticals collide with some devastating results.
Running at the Unicorn through Sept. 30, the show is about two young people, Tristan and Connie, who sign up for a long-term clinical trial to test a new anti-depressant. Connie is a psychology student at the university and is curious about how everything works. Tristan makes a habit of doing clinical trials for the money. They are overseen by Dr. Lorna James, who makes sure they follow the rules and tracks the effect of the drug on their bodies.
Tristan and Connie soon fall in love with each other, but Connie reminds them that they are on a drug that boosts brain chemicals that are involved with feelings of love. So they may actually be falling in love, or their feelings may only exist because of the experimental drug and would go away when the experiment stops.
The events of the trial have large consequences for Dr. James, who is dealing with her own life issues and also battles depression. This causes complications with the doctor who oversees the study, Dr. Tobey Sealey.
The play is well-cast: Amy O’Connor plays Connie, and she imbues the character with a smart but insecure sense of self. She is matched well with Rufus Burns, who plays the horny, glitchy Tristan with a sexiness that seems a little dangerous. As for the other pair of characters, Dr. James is played by Manon Halliburton, who has a sense of presence in her characters that I’ve never seen in any other actor. When I see her name in the program, I know that at least her character will be great. Todd Lanker has the smallest role, as Dr. Sealey, but he also serves as a good counter to Halliburton, bringing a sense of guilt and stability to an increasingly unstable Dr. James.
The play also pulls in other issues for consideration that are not in the main plot. One of these is an examination of depression, how it develops, and why some people are just not willing to take medicine for it. The play compares and contrasts emotions and drugs. And it also subtly makes you wonder: If mental illness means your brain is defective, then does that mean that you are defective as a person?
The Effect is a smart, funny and sad story that applies to all of us, even if we aren’t taking experimental drugs.
The Unicorn Theatre is at 3828 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. For tickets, go to unicorntheatre.org or call 816-531-7529, Ext. 10.