One of founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital, William Osler, once said “Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of philosophy.” I find this profound perspective quite fitting in Derek Lee McPhatter’s sci-fi drama “Serious Adverse Effects.” This performance premiered at Motor House in Baltimore over the weekend and is yet another intriguing production by Rapid Lemon. The play, directed by Noah Silas, is set in a lab where a rogue scientist, Dr. Vye (Valerie Lewis) uses two sisters in risky trials to find a cure to an unknown disease. What ensues is a perplexing series of uncertain events that relinquishes traditional scientific methods and slips through the proverbial looking glass.
Even though I was very excited to be physically back inside a theatre, I found the pace of the story to be a bit slow, especially at the beginning. Though it resolved rather effectively, it was hard to ignore its ambiguity. Was this play highlighting taboo science? Was there an interdimensional element at its core or its fringes? It was hard for me to tell. What was rather clear was the explosive drama between the patient Paula (Kyla Hammond), her boyfriend Brandon (Max Johnson) and Dr. Vye. These characters had some serious adverse combustion between them which may have been fun to explore. There was a fourth character, Nia (Maria Marsalis), but she was the most mysterious of all — drifting in and out of scenes like a ghostly figure. She was literally never in the same dimension as the others.
I thought the actors did well carrying this performance overall. Valerie Lewis (Dr. Vye) was stellar, though I felt for being a doctor, she could have had more suitable attire. Max Johnson played the over-reacting boyfriend, and his energy certainly overwhelms a room. Kyla Hammond (Paula) was excellent at being multi-faceted in her role — being timid in one sense and daring to thrust herself into the unknown to find her missing sister in another. There’s a lot of fine talent there. The actors truly carried this play and I felt it was their strong mannerisms and climactic projections that drove home the subtleties of a coarse human ordeal at the center of the story.
Set designer Bruce Kapplin gets a nod for putting together an attractive set, which was well lit by lighting designer Allan Sean Weeks. The images projected were very suggestive of colorful dimensional elements and quite amusing, which is another credit to director Noah Silas. Props designer, Flynn Harne, was fantastic with the sci-fi gadgets — the remote control glove was a nice touch. Of course, the sound designer, Max Garner, did some nice work on the bohemian-style soundtrack. The audio and visual ambience was at a precise balance, which helped usher the play from descending into an obscure schmaltz.
Overall, I give this production a B-. The play was a little replete with ambiguity for my taste and the story as a whole felt incomplete in its resolve. However, McPhatter is a blossoming playwright, so I suspect more is brewing in his lab.
Ultimately, I recommend going to see this play and wrap your mind around the leitmotif of slipping into the unknown and returning quite different. What might such a trip cure you of? I enjoy these thematic sci-fi dramas and believe the arching mystery they present is part of the fun. Not to mention it’s certainly a wonderful feeling to be back in the theatre again.
“Serious Adverse Effects” is playing now through May 23, 2021 at Motor House in Baltimore. For information and tickets, visit rapidlemon.org.
Running time: approximately 90 minutes.