By Jean Lowerison
Leave it to the ladies of Moxie Theatre to come up with a play about the relationship be-tween desire and happiness– in women. Even more to the point, the question is this: is sexual desire required for happiness?
The play is Sara Saltwick’s most unusual “The Pleasure Trials.”
There are two main characters. Dr. Rachel Milan (Sarah Alida LeClair) is maybe in her 40s, a committed by-the-book scientist who likes doing research. She’s been studying sexual behavior in voles, the small, hairy rodents, and has found a way to affect sexual behavior in the vole world.
Now she thinks she’s found the answer for human females, and is about to recruit human subjects for a study of what she calls “Female Desire Deficit Disorder.” She’s come up with a pill that she thinks will heighten desire in her subjects.
Her assistant is newly minted Ph.D Callie Young (Sutheshna (Suthe) Mani), excited about doing the research but seemingly less concerned with the rigors of research than with getting the result she wants.
In addition to the scientists, several self-described sexually deprived women (all played by Andréa Agosto) will appear for an interview and be given several pages of ques-tions to answer.
The stage setup is simple. Dr. Milan’s desk has a laptop and a box of pencils that keeps getting dumped on the floor. There’s a phone on the wall, not on her desk. Across the rear of the stage are rows of large bottles, each with a white or colored substance in-side. These can be and are lit from behind from time to time.
The stage right area of Yi-Chien Lee’s set is inhabited by the excellent violist Sharon Taylor, who provides a lovely musical accompaniment throughout. This is welcome, though not explained.
One of the subjects is (or maybe isn’t) Jen, a friend of Dr. Milan, who seems to have past memories of being a previous experimental subject, in a problematic experiment. Their “past” isn’t really explained, but though Callie seems delighted with the present results, Jen ends the first act accusing Rachel of wanting to find “just the easy an-swers.”
Things go crazy in the second act, which I can neither explain nor understand. Callie seems to be almost but not quite getting married. Some research subjects want more of “those pills.” Rachel is just tired, and keeps getting unexplained migraine headaches.
The financial backer of the experiment calls to say he’s not happy. Uh-oh. That could be the end of this area of research. Or not. I’ll let you find out.
I’ve always depended on Moxie for fascinating, well-done theater. “The Pleasure Trials” is on-and-off intriguing, sometimes funny and wonderfully presented, but ultimately unsatisfying. I suggest a bit of rewriting.
“The Pleasure Trials” plays through Sept. 11, 2022 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Shows: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.