A couple (Drew Wall, Jenny Ledel) meet with a consultant (Christopher Llewyn Ramirez) to take a
therapy drug in ‘Empathitrax.’ (Photo by Karen Almond)
‘Empathitrax’ forages through the unintended consequences of quick-fix drug culture
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
A couple of urbanites awkwardly welcome an uncommonly chipper and well-dressed delivery man — really more a concierge of prescription medication — into their small but tasteful flat, shuffling nervously at what he has in a fancy box. In the 1970s, it might be weed; in the 1990s, Viagra; but it the current millennium, the contents are something new: A dozen pills, called Empathitrax. The drug has some mild side effects (arm numbness, dry mouth), but the benefits are the ultimate in couples therapy — swallow one, and for the next 12 hours, you can intimately empathize with the exact emotions of the person you touch. Wonder whether your wife loves you? You can tell how much. Turned on when your husband does the dishes without you asking? Now he knows exactly how much.
Which is both good and bad, of course. What are the limits of emotional bonding? What if you could know your partner’s true nature, and what you discovered frightened you? And how much does our society turn to drugs to solve our problems rather than put in the work required of a relationship?
Those are some of the myriad issues — there are quite a few more — in Empathitrax, Ana Nogueira’s semi-satire about modern relationships now staged by Second Thought Theatre. The play is at its best in the first half, when the couple known only as Him (Drew) and Her (Jenny Ledel) (an infuriatingly self-indulgent conceit) are obliquely navigating the bumps they have endured recently. They snipe at each other, passive-aggressively but politely — witty, uncomfortable banter in the Apatow vein.
But the play swerves into more serious territory when we learn that Her has developed what is referred to as depression, but which sounds more like bipolar or dissociative disorder. Him isn’t sure he can live with it. What are the ethics of knowing more about your partner than you wanna share? What are the unintended consequences of a quick-fix, self-help drug culture?
The dour tone doesn’t quite fit well into the first half, but there’s no denying the powerful and comic performances by the small, tight cast of Wall, Ledel and Ramirez (especially in an amazingly heartfelt ending). They all do excellent work at making the audience empathize with the anxiety inherent in contemporary society. Ya feel me?