The eponymous miracle drug in Ana Nogueira’s Empathitrax takes touchy-feeliness to new extremes. Those who ingest it are able to communicate their emotions, fully and instantly, through simple skin-to-skin contact. MDMA was used as a psychotherapy tool in the 1970s, but Empathitrax is far more dramatic: It’s ecstasy on acid, and for the play’s central couple, the exuberant Her (Justine Lupe) and the more reserved Him (Jimmi Simpson), it presents a chance to break through the walls that have accrued in their 10-year relationship. When they touch, they experience electric shocks of delirious love and mutual insight. But when she weans herself off Zoloft—which she has also been taking, to combat depression—her adorably manic energy changes, and her darkness and hopelessness get transferred to him; like the X-Men’s Rogue, she drains him visibly when his body touches hers. Can love survive such total understanding? (As someone in the play says, “We aren’t supposed to know everything.”)
Like much good sci-fi before it, Empathitrax uses a conceptual gimmick to poke at real and substantial questions. Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt, of Colt Coeur, grounds the production in everyday lucidity, and Lupe’s brave performance invites us to recoil from and connect with her at the same time. Bring a loved one if you dare: Unsettling and wise, Empathitrax is the kind of play that could strengthen any relationship that survives it.
HERE (Off-Off Broadway). By Ana Nogueira. Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt. With Justine Lupe, Jimmi Simpson, Genesis Oliver. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission. Through Oct 1. Click here for full venue and ticket information.
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