"When we were first hired," Anne Bates recalls with a laugh, "the very first thing [director] David [Cromer] said to me was, 'So you guys aren't brother and sister, right?'"

"Because we both are Bates," adds Colin Bates, her costar in Cromer's production of Lucy Prebble's The Effect at the Barrow Street Theatre.

"And we both went to Juilliard," Anne says. "We were laughing about it, because we're not brother and sister. My friends came and the ladies behind them were like, 'Are they married?' They definitely didn't like the brother-sister option as much."

It's easy to see why. The Effect is, essentially, an intimate love story between a man and a woman who are human guinea pigs in a trial of a new antidepressant. But are they actually in love, or is it the drug, which increases dopamine levels in the brain? It's that grey area that the Bates' get to explore now full-time, having served as understudies for the better part of the drama's run.

On a trip to Roosevelt Island, home of the historic Renwick Smallpox Hospital, the pair (who are actually not related at all) discussed taking over the leading roles from Susannah Flood and Carter Hudson and rediscovering the play in the process, as guided by one of New York's most prolific off-Broadway directors.

In front of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island, Anna Bates and Colin Bates recreate a scene from Lucy Prebble's The Effect.
In front of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island, Anne Bates and Colin Bates re-create a scene from Lucy Prebble's The Effect.
(© David Gordon)

What is it like to take on the lead roles full-time after four months of being understudies?

Anne Bates: David really was making it clear that he wants me to find my own way. He'll allow us to change things up. One of the things that David told me in rehearsal a few days ago was that when he started seeing me taking over what the character wants, I took ownership of the role. Both of us had a small chance to work with the other opposite [originating] lead.

Colin: I went on with Susannah a week before I took over, with a couple of days' notice. It was nice to do it with someone who had been doing it for a while. But now that me and Anne are doing it together, we're actually discovering it together. We're rehearsing while we're doing the show in a way. We didn't have that tech rehearsal or previews. When I went on with Susannah, it was more nerve-wracking because I hadn't done it with her at all. But then when I went on with Anne, it was like, "Oh, OK." We've rehearsed at least once a week from the beginning. It was almost more comfortable doing it with Anne.

Anne: We had rehearsals all the time, thinking we'll never go on together. So we already have a relationship. Neither of us had been an understudy before, so that in and of itself was a very interesting learning experience. It was a long time having one rehearsal a week, or two rehearsals a week.

Colin: Being an understudy, it is challenging because you're a little bit separated. It does kind of feel that you're in a separate little company. We had our own thing going on. Now we're in the club of the cast, because the cast left. We never got to do the play all the way through until her opening night with me, and until I did it with Susannah.

Do you view The Effect as a love story?

Colin: Yeah, I do. Don't you? I think it's the ultimate love story. A drug-induced love story.

Anne: I view it as a conflicted love story.

Colin: David says that throughout the course of a play, it's like going through a full life of a relationship. It moves very quickly and the arc of the whole love story is there in a way.

Anne: Everybody understands some level of meeting someone for that first time and how exciting and hot things can feel. Getting your dopamine levels even higher [through the drug trial] when they are already being high by this new experience, that's gonna make it so extreme and confusing.

Anna Bates and Colin Bates are the new stars of The Effect at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Anne Bates and Colin Bates are the new stars of The Effect at the Barrow Street Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

What does the play say about the contemporary world of prescription drugs?

Anne: One of the things is how it continues to let us know how much we still don't really know. Every person who has to consider medication for any reason has a very personal way of handling it to decide whether it helps them or not. I have friends who say that [medication] has helped them grasp onto something to continue moving forward. Others who are on very intense medications [find] it becomes incredibly difficult to go on and go off. One of the most interesting ideas, expressed in the words of Lucy [Prebble], is that there is no evidence for the efficacy of [antidepressants]. That's very powerful. In a huge moneymaking business, you would hope there was some sort of understanding or belief in what these are.

Colin: She brings up that you believe what you want to believe.

Anne: It also brings up that for every human being, if you're considering antidepressants or medications around this topic, it feels very vulnerable and upsetting. To really be willing to try something to better yourself, I think that takes a lot of courage.

How different is the production now that you've stepped into the leading roles?

Colin: It's a freshening up. Imagine a Broadway show and they replace half the cast. The feel of it is really gonna change. Especially with something so intimate and about love. It's a really fresh time to see the play, because we're discovering it too.

Anne: Working with David Cromer is like…In some ways, I breathe better. It is a true gift, it really is. He is so open [in a way that] allows for vulnerability in himself. It's so easy for him to discuss these topics with us. He really is willing to get right in there with these basic human understandings.

Colin: On personal levels.

Anne: You have no fear. It's something you trust.

At the Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island, Colin Bates and Anna Bates stage a scene from Lucy Prebble's The Effect.
At the Renwick Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island, Colin Bates and Anne Bates stage a scene from Lucy Prebble's The Effect.
(© David Gordon)