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MCC Theater Presents "Side Effects" at The Lucille Lortel Theatre
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MCC Theater Presents "Side Effects" at The Lucille Lortel Theatre

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MCC Theater Presents:

Side Effects

By Michael Weller
Directed by David Auburn

Joely Richardson and Cotter Smith

MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St
New York, NY 10014

Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Wade Laboissonniere
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Original Music & Sound Design: Scott Killian
Publicity: O&M Co.
Production Manager: B.D. White
Production Stage Manager: Kelly Glasow
General Manager: Ted Rounsaville
Casting: Telsey + Company

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
July 1, 2011

This engrossing new play by Michael Weller, whose earlier piece, Fifty Words, was a literary lead-in to the context of this work and to the transforming relationship of two characters, Melinda and Hugh Metz. Melinda, or Lindy (Joely Richardson), is labeled as bipolar, but when she’s off her meds, she gains control of reason and the sexuality that’s stunted by the pharmaceutical “cocktail” pushed by her controlling husband, Hugh (Cotter Smith). More on that below. I wish this production had been a duo play presentation, much like the 2009 New York production of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests. I had not seen Mr. Weller’s Fifty Words, and the Lucille Lortel could have shown them in tandem, even doubling its audience. Apparently a significant phone call in the earlier work reappears in Side Effects.

In a contemporary, comfortable, upscale living room, in the “Midwest”, Hugh, managing his family’s Metz cycle corporation (retro Metz cycle posters are framed in this set), is under the control of local political organizers. He has been chosen for a position that could catapult him to Washington, as a pawn for their interests. Hugh’s obsession is to control (the concept of control, through psychic, pharmaceutical, and sexual means, is the running theme here) Lindy through medication, so she’s subdued for his public image. He also makes efforts to control their two offstage sons, through boarding school and strict morals, leading to dramatic disasters. Whenever Hugh appears in control, and goes offstage, Lindy calls her lover. When Lindy seizes control, later in the play, tossing meds to the wind, Hugh comes back begging. In addition to two offstage lovers, one of whom is a spy, are the two sons, the highly placed politicians, and one assumes the doctor, who sadly prescribed all those pills. It’s Hugh who thinks he’s on high ground, until Lindy, standing on a ladder, shows him the door.

Cotter Smith, reviewed in this magazine in Next Fall, has the chiseled features of WASP gentility, and, as Hugh, has gestures for anger, fear, desire, or conflict. No relationship is simple, and Mr. Smith has an encyclopedic array of nuanced expressions, postures, and tones that reveal his state of mind and nature. He’s, at once, ready to attack his wife from frustration of social pressure and from frustration of sexual tension. But it’s Joely Richardson who mostly rivets the eye, with twitches and tics, a grin, a tear, a tantrum, a chuckle. Her resemblance to her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, is remarkable, adding another level of fascination to her persona. Ms. Richardson plays the rebel, who unloads the “cocktail” of drugs for personal strength and empowerment over her future. She paints her own new space, in preparation for a life under self-control. Yes, that element of control again. A level of control that takes her to a fearless unknown. Again, I wish Mr. Weller could not only present Fifty Words and Side Effects together, but also write a third piece for a trilogy, a follow-up on these onstage and offstage characters, with so much life to them.

David Auburn has splendidly directed for detailed and nuanced gesture, tone, and expression. Beowulf Boritt’s plush scenery, including doorway, curtains, molding, and stairway is perfectly suited to the perceived and understood action, and Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes are flattering and fashionable to Hugh and Lindy’s private and not so private worlds. I especially liked Scott Killian’s sound interludes that expanded those transformative moments. Kudos to all.

Cotter Smith and Joely Richardson
in MCC Theater's "Side Effects"
by Michael Weller
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Cotter Smith and Joely Richardson
in MCC Theater's "Side Effects"
by Michael Weller
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at