The Effect – Love and drugs at The Old Fitz (Theatre Review)

The Effect

Red Line Productions

The Old Fitz Theatre from April 18 to 19 May.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: John Marmaras

Of all the philosophical and scientific efforts (including points of difference and outright refutation between the two bodies of knowledge) we humans have labored over, none remains as elusive as the question of “what is love?” For many years now, thinkers have relied on the inevitability of love to define theories, as if, beneath the shifts and changes of political positions they were trying to reveal the constant, almost indestructible system of the imminent nature of falling in love. This irreversible process we tie to reproduction, try to bind with legalities, tangle up with commodities, finances and all the other checks and balances that ground these emotions in a permanent real. Love then becomes a picture of centuries of continuity, the forward projection of coupling and a sluggish soaking of emotionality across the arts that amount to a glacial, almost motionless base upon which we traditionally heap our own layer of events. The tools we use to connect our understanding of love are partly of our own making and partly inherited: economics, psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary science, philosophy and art, to name a few. As we move forward in time, ever more levels of analysis are added to the question of what love is. Each of these has its own peculiar discontinuities and patterns, and as each descends to the deepest levels, the rhythms become broader. Like the unmoving stories of history (histories of soil erosion or gold or irrigation) the idea of love occurs as an historical constant, despite our being unable to answer the primary question of what it is. Beneath everything, the constant of falling in love remains an irrefutable fact based entirely on a language constructed out of shared experience.

For Lucy Prebble and through her, director Andrew Henry, love is associated with brain chemistry, the clinic and a manic sort of madness born of artistic creativity. In The Effect, the central question remains “What is Love?” but its journey into the psyche comes by way of an idea that love may be ‘real’ or it may be a ‘placebo’ of sorts. Important questions arise through the play regarding methodologies of the collection of knowledge: what is a science, what is a theory, what is a concept, what is a text? How is one to diversify the levels at which one may place oneself, because each of these attempts to make an examination of love carries its own divisions and form of analysis. When does science give way to analysis which gives way to love itself and when is the reverse happening? For Lucy Prebble, the question of love is no longer being examined; rather, we are using the documenting of explorations to define love. We have stopped questioning our documented findings and instead are organizing our documented findings. This means love can mean and be whatever you decide. It’s lack of substance is (subsequently) accepted as so without question. The question becomes do we fall in love according to an ill-defined event or do we fall in love according to a series of documents that are fundamentally tools of memory? In short, do we really fall in love or do we seek to attach ourselves to a thing called love that we wish were an event?

Lucy Prebble and Andrew Henry use this experience (event) that is common to all of us to examine the world of the institution dedicated to documenting examination of mental faculties. A clinic or hospital, scientists or therapists, love or drugs, all boundaries blur in a perfect mirroring of the confused development of the discourse of psychopathology itself. If Lucy Prebble provides the writing, Andrew Henry successfully directs an environment that confuses the senses via Alexander Berlage’s lighting design and Benjamin Freeman’s sound. (Freeman’s Hammond organ sound works as a potent metaphor for the apex conversion point when love becomes tinny romance) The strongly directed cast take a firm hold of character which gives gravity to Lucy Prebble’s words providing a surface for their emergence. Through all this, The Effect then becomes a rather beautiful meditation on the complicated beauty of love rather than a criticism of the discourse of psychopathology.

If you saw The Effect in the last few years elsewhere, you would do well to get to this interpretation and enjoy the difference in focus. This production seeks to say something interesting and new about it’s text and that is always worth engaging in. Take your friends and chat long into the night after.