Less-than-simple pleasures are at play in Moxie’s The Pleasure Trials
What is pleasure exactly… and what are we willing to do or compromise to capture it? These questions – and more – are highlighted in Sarah Saltwick’s new play The Pleasure Trials, directed by Marti Gobel and running August 14-September 11 at the Moxie Theatre.
This comedy, in its San Diego premiere, stars Sarah Alida LeClair as Dr. Rachel Milan, Suthesna Mani as research assistant Callie Young, and Andréa Agosto tackling an alphabet of patients from Anne to Zora. As the show kicks off, the audience meets scientist Dr. Milan, a woman who is hopeful about the future, despite carrying the scars of failed past experiments and relationships. In a moment of creative chaos, Dr. Milan ideates the final ingredient for a drug which alleviates Female Desire Deficit Disorder. When she finally gets the go-ahead from her investors, Dr. Milan begins the drug trial with the help of her colleague, young and personable Callie Young. New trial participants enroll and, as they share their side effects and experiences, Milan and Young must make meaning of the data, interpret the ways in which pleasure manifests, and ultimately determine just how far is too far when it comes to satisfaction.
Kicking off the 18th season at Moxie, The Pleasure Trials raises interesting questions – what type of pleasure is most important? Is it sexual desire? Emotional attachment? Physical health? Professional respect? Acknowledgement in a relationship? Through a quippy but monologue-laden script, the characters explore each of these different scenarios. Dr. Milan is tortured by her past struggles and determined to make a difference without compromise of her ideals, though she doesn’t give her health a second thought as she struggles through debilitating migraines. LeClair carries that strain palpably, denoting it through facial expressions and sharp retorts directed at her fame-driven yet emotionally vulnerable assistant.
Callie, on the other hand, feels unfulfilled by her personal relationships, but deeply craves professional success and recognition, even at the risk of being dishonest and misrepresenting herself. Mani brings a physical energy to the stage that successfully reads as alternately idealistic and frantic. As the drug trial proceeds, an endless parade of participants (each played with a different flavor, dialect, and mannerisms with great skill by Agosto) poke holes in the doctor’s and Callie’s exteriors. And, while the first half of the show serves to set up motivations and context, act two can only be described as riotous as the trials (d)evolve towards their ultimate conclusion.
This show has been dressed delightfully by set designer Yi-Chien Li in a cascade of pink and cream that resembles a candy shop. The rose-colored hardwood floors, draped sheer curtains, sprays of flowers, and endless floating shelves filled with glass pill bottles read as apothecary-esque but deeply and traditionally feminine. These colors also echo throughout the lighting scheme (Sierra Shreves) including clever medicine jars that alight in moments of desire with colored LEDs, as well as in the array of costumes (Regan A. McKay). The monochromatic design is effective; while the pink, peach, magenta, and whites used are somewhat cliche, they generate a feeling of cohesion that carries through all elements of this show.
The production is further enhanced by the opulence of a live cello onstage. Sharon Taylor, the cellist, does an outstanding job throughout, which includes the delightful pre-show performance, the contribution of both orchestral and modern accompaniment during the scenes, and transcribed cell phone and business ring tones and knocks for sound cues during the performance.
For those who question the way of the world, their place in it, or who are ready to talk pleasure, The Pleasure Trials will spark conversations that are overdue to be had. The show runs at Moxie through September 11th with performances on Thursdays at 7:30p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8p.m., and Sundays at 2p.m. Tickets are available at moxietheatre.com.
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