Review by Tulis McCall
In Side Effects we watch a marriage on the rocks, but rarely has this activity been more enjoyable. This is a play that makes you leave the theatre empathizing with both parties. Not an easy task, but Weller makes it look easy in this brilliant look at relationships.
Hugh and Melinda Metz have returned to Hugh’s hometown where he is busy saving the bicycle factory his ancestors created. They had a bohemian lifestyle in the beginning. Later in New York he was on Wall Street and she was a writer of poetry. They were raising their boys in the city they both loved.
Then they moved back to the Midwest. Oops.
Now Hugh is considering a run for public office and Lindy is in full-blown bi-polar mode. She has tried various medications, all of which have side effects that make her feel as though she is not really herself. She would rather be a raging, throbbing, vital woman than the mild and cool person she is when she takes her meds. And this is who she is on the night we meet them. Lindy as just walked out of a dinner where the conversation leaned toward the denigration of abortion and all things liberal. Lindy knows the conversation was in response to a letter to the editor she wrote defending the needs of the underprivileged. Hugh, however, is not of the same mindset. The dinner was thrown by his largest political backer, and the evening was of great import. Because he neglected to fill Lindy in on his plans, however, she didn’t get the Memo.
So begins this very fine production, which at times is like watching an onion peel itself. Hugh and Lindy have been together 20 or so years. And in that time they have collected a number of coupons that reflect, as Hugh puts is “extremely poor choice-making.” They are like two teenagers in a three-legged race. They are bound to one another even thought their rhythm together is anything but consistent.
This play is reminiscent of Weller’s Fifty Words seen here in 2008. In each play Weller dissects the incompatibility of the couples as though we were in an operating theatre. He is as interested in what connects them as he is in what pulls them apart. And this is the true triumph in the writing. Although you would like to take sides, it is difficult to do so because Weller loves both these people. He loves their honor and their lumpy bits.
Ad played by Cotter Smith and Joely Richardson we get both in spades. This is Smith’s finest work that I have seen. His Hugh is layered and lurching. He grabs before he thinks. Richardson plays Lindy right on the edge, although as an actor she appears less comfortable than Smith. Hers are the dexterous lines that require a few back flips, and as the run proceeds I am certain she will become more comfortable with her work.
In the end, we arrive at a destination that is a surprise to us and to the characters. Like life – this is a play chock-a-block full with unforeseen events and their side effects.
"In this 90-minute two-character portrait of a marriage on the edge of explosion, Ms. Richardson is the dynamite to Mr. Smith’s slow-burning match. And watching her spark and sputter before she blows up the house makes “Side Effects” more of a pleasure than it has any right to be."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"David Auburn, known for his Pulitzer-winning play "Proof," directs. His cast crackles with jittery abandon, even though the story fails to ignite due to familiarity and illogic."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Undermined by awkward attempts at wit, forced plot twists and incongruous reactions."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A taut, smart staging that effectively displays Weller's crackling wit and never veers into melodrama.."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"It's all very hard to swallow... The actors struggle under the weight of their unappealing characters."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Disappointingly trite play"
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"If there's one good reason not to ankle this misbegotten play, she's (Joely Richardson) it."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...