GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – The audience sits in a hybrid medical amphitheater, raised four or so feet above the main floor, as if observing the stages of an experimental trial.

The flooring consists interconnected six-sided tiles of white, gray and mid tan.

At the center is the focal point, a raised bit of floor that’s also six-sided, though large and white.

Above each of the three seating areas are screens – upside down trapezoids – for observing projected data details of the trial, X-ray-like images of bodies or brains, clues to what’s happening, the word “Raushen” … and the countdown to the end of intermission.

Projectors on three walls “feed” the screens.

Electronic music is heard, a sort of smooth, long comforting/eerie undulation of indefiniteness, eventually changing to help set scene moods.

No plays are “usual,” and “The Effect” as presented by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance in Jean Weidner Theatre (64 seats for this production) is more than not usual.

The story deals with the head – how the brain works, or doesn’t.

Two volunteers are part of an experiment that – in less-than-layman’s terms – messes with the head to create emotions that people think come naturally. Stuff like, “I love you.”

The pace at first is clinically, antiseptically sterile. The two volunteers take pills and are observed, interspersed with high-level talk.

Connie (Kara Kaiser) and Tristan (Emmie Falish) agreed to a rigid situation devised by a research head doctor, Toby (Carter Bauer), with James (Mia Bolyard) minutely monitoring Connie and Tristan’s every move.

Playwright Lucy Prebble’s imagination is a high-level sort with much psychiatric detail along with human emotions in the Connie-Tristan and Toby-James stories… sprinkled with grains of murky.

Director Rebecca Stone Thornberry and her creative collaborators carefully and adeptly prepare the scenario and the players. This is a cerebral and curiosity-serving production, disturbing at times.

Feathers fly on the Connie-Tristan and Toby-James fronts, sometimes with sexual undertones becoming overtones.

The goal in the laboratory experiment, apparently, is to test a drug as a depression cure.

Connie has volunteered because she is a student in the field. Tristan is a free-style being, seemingly game for anything.

The two take to one another. Is it drug-induced? Are their feelings real? Either way, there is romping that is played out in the production, a kind of Kama Sutra with 10 or so pages from the manual.

Toby is invested in this experiment big time. He’s trying to prove his idea and become validated as the real deal – that something he concocted actually works. It seems ethics may be on the sideline, just observing. James’ role as a sort of high-level minion … just is … for Toby, consequences set aside. The thing is, Toby and James have a history. It’s shady, but there. And, eventually, a James secret comes out as unavoidable.

Along the way are lessons about the human brain – all its primary functions (like breathing) and its mysterious ones (like emotions). One lesson comes in a lecture by Toby, holding in his hand a human brain that has special meaning to him… and dark, dark humor to the audience.

Along the way, James is put to the test by her rascally volunteers and her own mind. This play changes direction a lot.

The acting is especially intense in Act II.

Emmie Falish has a way of cranking up Tristan as if human alarm bells are CLANKING. Scary.

Kara Kaiser’s Connie is a cameleon of emotion and thought, very erudite in ways.

Carter Bauer grabs on to the manipulator factor of Toby, the fudging with science and relationships.

Mia Bolyard latches on to the swing of her role, from the person in control to the whole other end of that.

These student actors are well prepared. There is a boldness to their performances.

For the audience, “The Effect” may cause a few shocks – one definitely sexual – to the concept of theatergoing. Lucy Prebble tilts the thinking cap.

That the play is performed this time in a theater named for a psychotherapist seems to be coincidental.


Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. October 14-15 and 19-22


Creative: Playwright – Lucy Prebble; director – Rebecca Stone Thornberry; scenic designer – Sera Shearer; costume designer – Kaoime E. Malloy; lighting designer – Dinesh Yadav; sound designer – John Thornberry; hair/make-up designer – Kaoime E. Malloy; properties designer – Sera Shearer; projection designer – Sera Shearer; technical director – Dinesh Yadav; assistant technical director – David Cook; stage manager – Alax Stylinson; assistant stage manager – Sarina Radspinner; intimacy director – Alan Kopischke; assistant intimacy director – Jasmine Christyne; fight choreographer – Alan Kopischke


Connie – Kara Kaiser

Tristan – Emmie Falish

James – Mia Bolyard

Toby – Carter Bauer


NEXT: “If/Then” musical, Nov. 17-19.

THE VENUE: Jean Weidner Theatre is a fully outfitted black-box space (no adornments; focus on the stage) located in the southeast corner of the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The space is devoted to UWGB Theatre and Dance programs. Entrance for “The Effect” is by way of a side door on the ground level off a hallway that connects the theater to the outside in one direction and the rest of the large building in the other. The room has height – more than two stories. The audience enters at approximately a second-story level. Viewing is downward, like that of an amphitheater. The performance space is intimate, demanding that the actors be focused on stage, despite being surrounded by prying eyes. The theater is the smallest of three contained in the Weidner Center.

THE PERSON: Jean Weidner was a psychotherapist and wife of Edward Weidner, founding chancellor of UWGB. The Weidners had four children. Jean Weidner died in 1997. A memorial service was held for her on the stage of the Weidner Center’s main stage amid spectacular set pieces of a touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera.”