Like many recent creative developments, Maggie Roop’s journey to direct the play “Placebo” began during the pandemic.
“It feels like we’re never going to stop talking about 2020 and 2021, but I read the play in 2021 and it just got me thinking about how much time people spent in 2020 with the people that were closest to them,” says Roop, the founding artistic director of Yes, And! Theatrical Co.
Whether it was a roommate, family member or romantic partner, Roop says nearly everyone found a new ways of relating to the people closest to them.
“You were forced to spend so much time together,” she says. “As I was reading ‘Placebo,’ there were so many moments and themes arising that brought me back to that idea of connection and what real connection means.”
Roop was charmed enough that she chose it as the first play that Yes, And! is staging as a producing theater company. Though the company was founded a decade ago and has created and co-produced stagings of shows like “Riding the Bull,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Venus in Fur,” this is its first, full theatrical season.
“Placebo” concerns Louise, a doctoral candidate who is conducting a double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of a new female arousal drug. Through Louise’s work on the drug, she begins to investigate the concept of a placebo, and the question of what’s real and what isn’t begins to bleed into other parts of her life, including her relationships.
“We see how all of that transpires as she discovers what’s real and, maybe, the things she’s been faking her way through,” Roop says.
The show stars local actress Grey Garrett as Louise. Roop says that while audiences may know Garrett primarily for her work in musicals, this role has been an opportunity for her to show off her dramatic chops.
“I’ve seen her do work here that I’ve never seen her do before,” Roop says. “She’s really capturing this character in such a sensitive and confident way.”
For her part, Garrett says the play is quirky in the fashion of an indie film.
“It really examines what we, as humans, do to justify a lot of thoughts and feelings, and whether or not those justifications are real or imagined,” Garrett says. She says her character “is a very pragmatic, practical woman. She derives a lot of her value in herself from her intelligence.”
Much of the show concerns Louise’s relationship with her partner Jonathan, played by John-Michael Jalonen, who is going through a crisis. For the past seven years, Jonathan has been working on a dissertation about Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher who died while attempting to rescue a friend and his family from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
“When the audience is introduced to Jonathan’s character, they see him near the end of his rope, as it were, in terms of deciding if he can actually finish this dissertation or if he should give it all up,” Jalonen says.
In contrast, the character of Louise is very goal-focused and detail-oriented, he says.
“As a character, she’s pretty ambitious and hardworking, and she seems like she knows exactly what she wants out of life,” says Jalonen. “She plans things in advance, and she’s sort of meticulous. The sensibility is that the scientific nature of career and her nature also extends into her personal life.”
Jalonen says the witty, fast-paced dialogue reminds him of “The West Wing,” the acclaimed TV series created by Aaron Sorkin.
“It’s written almost in stanzas, like you would see poetry. It’s a very sort of free-flowing, interpretive script,” he explains. “You could say these lines as an actor in a million different ways, and none of them would necessarily be wrong.”
The show puts an emphasis on communication and the importance of speaking one’s mind, he says.
“Are we really talking to each other? And when we’re talking to each other, are we actually saying what we mean to say?” Jalonen asks. “Sometimes it’s more important to say what you’re really thinking than to just put on a happy face and pretend that everything is fine.”
Roop says the play explores human connection and communication in an honest way.
“This is a comedy about how human relationships evolve, and what you can discover in yourself when you open yourself up to a real connection,” she says. “If you like witty, dry humor and playful language, this is the play for you.”
Yes, And!’s “Placebo” plays through Feb. 25 at ContrastRVA, 1200 McDonough St., Suite 101, 23224. For more information, visit yesandrva.org.