Rapid Lemon’s “serious adverse effects” fascinate and resonate

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During this year and further from live theater, many artists and creators have taken the opportunity to deepen their processes and methodologies. The goal was not to “return to normal” per se, but to reassess the pervasive systemic exclusion of marginalized voices in the performing arts. While some theaters emerging from inactivity have seemingly learned nothing, and others may be writing ambitiously revised mission statements, some theaters are stepping up with prime examples of exciting, intelligent, and inclusive theater. who can advance the art form.

Baltimore’s Rapid Lemon Productions is cautiously reentering live production — all cast/crew and audience masked, 25% capacity, and all performances simulcast live — and their first near-post-pandemic production is the complex’s world premiere. Chicago-based playwright Derek Lee McPhatter sci-fi drama Serious side effectsuntil May 23 at the Motor House.

The cast of ‘Serious Adverse Effects’ (clockwise from top left): Max Johnson (Brandon), Valerie Lewis (Dr Vye), Kyla Hammond (Paula) and Maria Marsalis (Nia) . Photos courtesy of Rapid Lemon Productions.

In the near future, a debilitating disease known as the syndrome has spread through the population, primarily affecting poor African American women. Ten years ago, Paula Williams (Kyla Hammond) and her sister Nia underwent experimental therapy offered by Dr. Stallings and his graduate assistant Nichelle Vye (Valerie Lewis) that resulted in Nia’s death. Now Dr. Vye has reached out to Paula again; she secretly continued her research on her own and claims to have made a major breakthrough.

Paula is clearly traumatized by her sister’s death and suspicious of Dr. Vye, but finds herself drawn to her nonetheless, partly because she wants to stabilize her health enough to start a family with her fiancé Brandon, but mostly during therapy. preliminary – who accesses the patient’s health. inner awareness – not only bears fruitful results, but suggests the possibility that Nia is still alive, albeit on another plane of existence.

Science fiction has always been a useful way of talking not about the future but about the present, recounting contemporary social issues in plots about aliens and mad scientists and the like. McPhatter, an African-American playwright, peppers the script with many heavy concepts, some universal, others definitely meant to resonate with black audiences. The notion of a white scientist (assuming Dr. Stalling was white) experimenting on black subjects brings to mind the Tuskegee experiment. There are also occasional references to the North Star, and at least one mention of “following the drinking gourd”, a folk song denoting the runaway slaves’ route to freedom using the North Star as a guide.

Derek Lee Mc Phatter. Photo: derekleemcphatter.com.

It’s a compelling play – written before the pandemic – with a gripping theme of spiritual transcendence, and the production team at Rapid Lemon are more than up to the task of pulling it off effectively. Set designer Bruce Kapplin, lighting designer Allan Sean Weekes, and prop artist Flynn Harne create a lab environment that’s both cold and clinical, yet still bursting with vibrant color. The moods are further enhanced by projections by Noah Silas and sound design by Max Garner.

I suppose it is a budget limitation that what is described as a “room” in which the patient sits for therapy is realized on stage as an examination chair on a low platform, and that the Encounters in the “healing place” may not be more distinguishable on stage from action in the “real” world. It could also be that this distinctiveness is very present and I couldn’t fully perceive it through my Zoom feed looking at a single camera perspective, so I can’t blame director Noah Silas. Regardless of all the challenges, it keeps the action fast-paced, even if from my distant vantage point the staging tends to keep some of McPhatter’s futuristic magical realism grounded in the here and now.

I also had some difficulty between my hearing and the sometimes choppy audio stream. As a result, I lost quite a bit of dialogue and a lot of nuance between the actors, further aggravated by their masks, so any assessment of the actors company should bear that in mind. Valerie Lewis and Kyla Hammond are nonetheless well-matched protagonists, Maria Marsalis is indeed ethereal as Nia, and Max Johnson lets Brandon walk the line, as the only male, white character, into possessiveness and entitlement.

Many local and national theaters should take note of both McPhatter’s compelling play and Rapid Lemon’s mission statement. If a producer or audience member might secretly (or not so secretly) be put off by greater diversity and representation on stage, citing coded terms like “marketable” or “accessible,” and clinging to a dated conception of “black” theater is their loss. Serious side effects is a pole star to follow.

Duration: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.

Serious side effects by Derek Lee McPhatter, ddirected by Noah Silas, presented by Rapid Lemon Productions, plays through May 23, 2021, at Motor House, 120 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD. All performances will be live and available online and in person. Tickets for both can be purchased in line.

With: Valerie Lewis (Dr. Vye), Kyla Hammond (Paula), Max Johnson (Brandon), Maria Marsalis (Nia). Team: Bruce Kapplin (Scenography) Deana Fisher Brill (Costume Design), Allan Sean Weekes (Lighting Design), Max Garner (Sound Design, Producer), Flynn Harne (Prop Design, Production Stage Manager), Noah Silas (Projections), Agyeiwaa Asante (Dramaturgy).

In-person participation will follow strict COVID safety protocols, including:

• Cast, crew, staff and all audience members will be masked at all times.
• The number of in-person attendees will be limited to not exceed 25% of room occupancy (including cast, crew and staff). Spectators will be physically distanced in the theater.
• Temperature checks will be carried out and information of members of the public recorded for contact tracing purposes.

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