Entertainment » Theatre

Lab Rats

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Nov 9, 2015
Marc Pierre and Brenna Fitzgerald star in 'Lab Rats'
Marc Pierre and Brenna Fitzgerald star in 'Lab Rats'  (Source:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Mika (Brenna Fitzgerald) has some issues when it comes to working and playing well with others. Jake (Marc Pierre) is shy and a little awkward, the very picture of a socially anxious geek. (We get that not just because he tells us so, but through his cultural references.) They eke out their livelihoods by selling themselves to science, literally offer up their bodies (and minds) to research studies.

One gets the sense that both Mika and Jake are on a quest for a magic bullet to help them allay fear and rage; certainly, this is hinted at when Jake finds himself in a study that provides him medication that works as though tailor made for his needs. But this isn't so much a play about a quest as much as it is about personal change, perseverance, and propinquity. It's also a comedy, and a lively one: For a play about damaged people living on the margins, "Lab Rats," written by Patrick Gabridge, is surprisingly fresh and light.

After crossing paths at a number of studies, Mika and Jake start talking. Their first interactions are heightened by the side effects of the experimental drugs they're taking -- she gets manic in one scene, he gets delusionally expansive in the next -- but that doesn't stop them from making a connection. After all, we are essentially who we are even when we're not quite ourselves because we're out of our minds on pharmaceuticals -- right? It's a sweet notion, and we buy it thanks to the writing -- and also thanks to Fitzgerald and Pierre's top-shelf performances.


Brenna Fitzgerald in 'Lab Rats'  (Source:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Their relationship does have its challenges, though, not the least of which is Jake's determination to travel some place exotic after his next big paycheck. He styles himself a world traveler always looking forward to his next adventure, whereas Mika could do with the exact opposite: She needs some semblance of stability in her erratic life. Needless to say, the two complement each other nicely. It's just not necessarily convenient for them to acknowledge or act on that realization.

If the production's easy, charming way -- much of it down to Kyler Taustin's direction -- is a surprise, so is how well this Brown Box Theatre Project production works, staged as it is in the lobby of the Atlantic Wharf building. You'd fear that the space would be less than amendable to a play; actually, the space works fine, and has amiable, even friendly, atmosphere. The stage, designed by Marc Ewart, is a closely focused environment that avoids feeling claustrophobic, establishing its own place without feeling cut off. The set is utilitarian but not cold or clinical, which makes it work well in terms of its institutional settings and the human drama that plays out within.


Marc Pierre in 'Lab Rats'  (Source:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

The set does present challenges for lighting designer Ben Lieberson, but with some portable lighting stands and imaginative placements, Lieberson pulls it off. More difficult still, one would expect, is the sound design, and yet Andrew Paul Jackson accomplishes the sound in a way that seems simple and not at all echoey or attenuated, neither dim nor blaring.

This experiment in humor will perk you up without risk of side effects -- unless, that is, you're allergic to smiling.


Lab Rats" continues through Nov. 15 at Atlantic Wharf in Boston. For tickets and more information, please visit www.brownboxtheatre.org


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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