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In ‘The Effect,’ Investigating Love and Other Drugs

The world of experimental medical research might not seem like it has much to say to the world of theater, but Lucy Prebble sees connections. Both require subjects and observers, both take place within a carefully controlled environment and both depend on a certain amount of luck.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘That’s kind of what we do,’” said Prebble, a British playwright and screenwriter.

In 2006, Prebble became fascinated with one botched medical trial in particular, in which six healthy young Britons experienced multiple organ failure after taking a novel drug. The incident partly inspired “The Effect,” Prebble’s play about two participants in a drug trial that alters the course of their lives. First produced in 2012 at the National Theater in London (and performed in New York at the Barrow Street Theater in 2016), it was revived there last fall and will come to New York on March 3 for a limited engagement at the Shed.

Like the London revival, the New York run will star Paapa Essiedu (“I May Destroy You,” “Black Mirror”) and Taylor Russell (“Waves,” “Bones and All”) as Tristan and Connie, two people from different class backgrounds with near opposite personalities who are given an antidepressant with the potential to induce feelings of love. When the drug proves stronger than expected — testing the boundary between love and mania — the trial’s administrators (played by Michele Austin and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) struggle to keep it from spinning out of control.

“I couldn’t quite work out whether it was a tragedy or a triumph,” Essiedu said of the play. “Even now, having done it for two months, I never quite settle on what I believe.”Credit…Kalpesh Lathigra for The New York Times

“They know what they feel but they don’t know why they feel it,” Essiedu said of Tristan and Connie. “Are they experiencing something that’s 1 in 1 billion? Or will it be here today and gone tomorrow?”

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