ADVERSE EFFECTS Powers Tesseract Theatre's Debut At The New .ZACK Theatre

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ADVERSE EFFECTS plays the .ZACK Theatre Dec 2 - 11, 2016.

I have to imagine that for a parent there can be no greater worry than the loss of your child. Imagine having to dwell on that over and over again, revisiting your worst fears over and over. How would you grieve? Would you be angry about the circumstance and want justice or tried to move on with your life, grieving silently and privately? For three years, The Tesseract Theatre’s Artistic Director and playwright Taylor Gruenloh did exactly that. His own daughter is perfectly fine, don’t fear. No, he had to inhabit a scenario that he wouldn’t wish upon anyone and find answers to as many difficult questions as his brain could come with. He spent three long years exploring the deeply affecting and life-altering possibility of life after tragic loss. The result is an arresting play called ADVERSE EFFECTS, directed by Brittanie Gunn and running December 2 – 11, 2016, at the .ZACK Theatre on Locust Avenue, just a few blocks from both The Fabulous Fox Theatre and the magical Marcelle Theatre in St. Louis’ exciting Grand Center arts district.

The play opens with Phil (Carl Overly Jr.) returning home from a tiring day, where his wife Jessica (Musa Gurnis) is trying to salvage what she can from their flooded basement. It’s evident early on that this couple is in love, but the loss of their daughter a couple of years prior still casts a long shadow over their lives. Phil is consumed with getting some sort of justice—their daughter apparently stepped in front of a train while experiencing a potential side effect from a child psychiatric medication. Jessica grieves differently, and seems more prepared to move on with their lives than her husband. Neither knows quite how to express what they’re going through to each other. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical rep Alyssa (Julianne King) arrives in St. Louis where Jessica’s brother Richard (Phil Leveling), a research doctor in the pharmaceutical field, awaits her. Their relationship is a mix of business and pleasure. On the periphery of both couples stands Maurice (Maurice Walters II), a sports writer for a tiny local press who wants desperately to be working on more important news pieces and public interest stories. As the plot evolves, we find Alyssa takes her queues from her self-made boss lady Kim (Taleesha Caturah) who values her power and money over any moral misgivings about the work they do: ghostwriting articles for medical journals touting the positive effects and safety of whatever drug they are hired to promote for the big pharmaceutical giants and making sure the doctors and scientists who back their claims – like Richard – are kept happy. Maurice, meanwhile, is challenging his old-timey country newspaper editor Ed (Don McClendon) over informing their readers of important issues instead of just glorifying the high school football team and reminding everyone of the quilt and bake sale, or whatever Ed lets pass for news. Richard and Phil don’t get along, and when Richard gives Jessica some money to help through a tough time it sets off a chain of event s you really should see for yourself.  

The beauty of ADVERSE EFFECTS isn’t so much the plot, which is certainly fine,   but in how the actors make every moment of the show feel real, and every character identifiable. I’ve seen couples exactly like Phil and Jessica. Business and pleasure relationships like Alyssa and Richard happen all the time and there are plenty of career first women charging ahead like Kim. I think nearly every journalist wants to be doing more with their stories than whatever it is they cover at any given time, so I saw a good bit of myself in Maurice. Ed the editor (clever, Taylor!) is something of a throwback to older days, when the success of a paper was weighed as much by the quality of the stories as it was circulation numbers, because if nobody likes what you print nobody’s going to buy it. Nowadays, it’s all about the clicks, baby. From to and from Facebook to Buzzfeed, clicks drive the analytics that drive advertising revenue. I don’t think there a lot of Eds out there anymore, but he helped anchor the story as being in a backwater little place that hasn’t necessarily kept up with the times, and certainly too small and remote to draw the kind of attention Phil needs to get closure for his daughter’s death.

As the story begins to reach its climax, the outcome isn’t a real big surprise and that in and of itself is a welcome change. I see way too many movies and television shows that deliberately go for the twist ending as writers, producers and or directors feel some seemingly inescapable need to feel smarter than their audience. Taylor Gruenloh, Brittanie Gunn and their fine cast gave their audience exactly what they wanted—a well crafted and touching performance about a completely realistic situation anyone in the audience could relate to. Tiny things, like the way Jessica demanded Phil’s attention only to turn and walk away once she had it, really felt honest. That sort of thing has happen to me before. Doing something you thought was right only to find out later that your actions may have cost someone dearly, as in Richard’s case, made me run through a mental checklist on the way home. Did I ever agree to be attached to something that could be catastrophic down the line? I certainly hope not! I do hope to someday use my powers of communication for the greater good. As much as I enjoy spreading the word about Tesseract Theatre’s thought-provoking plays and reporting on other stage, music and film productions around town, I will always wish I could be doing more.

Then again, doing more may have other adverse effects that I am not aware of. You know you’ve seen a heck of a show when you’re having a philosophical debate with yourself while you write about it. See for yourself how ADVERSE EFFECTS affects you. Side effects may include recognizing elements of yourself in the characters, reminders of your own personal dramas, and a desire to see it again before the curtain closes on the show on December11. Please visit for more information and to see if ADVERSE EFFECTS is right for you.

These statements are made by someone who is not a doctor and does not play one on TV or on stage.  

5.0 / 5.0