Lucy Prebble’s big American handshake was supposed to happen back in 2010, when her London hit “Enron” — a wild, financially detailed and highly theatrical take on the Houston energy company’s spectacular bankruptcy — moved to Broadway.
New York hated what London had loved. “Enron” closed almost immediately, and Prebble is only now getting her D.C. debut with the regional premiere of “The Effect,” opening Wednesday at Studio Theatre.
“Intense over-validation and punishing shame,” the 36-year-old playwright says of her “Enron” ride, sounding cheerful as she speaks by phone from her London home. “To have them both in such a short period is interesting. I love that show. I love its brio. Now when I read it back, I’m sort of amazed I had the confidence to write it.”
The smaller drama “The Effect” is about a man and a woman in a clinical trial for an antidepressant. Are they in love? Can they trust what they feel? The play for four actors, billed as a “chemical romance,” started from the same questioning impulse that begot “Enron.” Headlines about a clinical scandal in Britain made Prebble want to know more.
“Of course drugs have to be tested on humans before they enter the market,” she says. “I’ve never thought about how that actually happens.”
“The Effect” was praised at London’s National Theatre in 2012 (premiering in a production with the troupe Headlong) and off-Broadway last year. It is Prebble’s most recent play: “I’m a writer in general before I think of myself as a playwright,” she says. “I was the sort of the kid who always had stories under her bed, always writing.”
Prebble created and wrote “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” for Britain’s ITV, seen stateside on Showtime. Next week she’ll be in New York as a writer and co-executive producer on “Succession,” a new HBO series that deals with an aging international media mogul played by Brian Cox. “It’s where politics, entertainment, corporations and family intersect,” Prebble says.
Check Prebble’s Twitter account and you’ll see that it’s up her alley. The Trump presidency is “distressing,” she says, and U.S. politics dominate her posts.
“I am into U.K politics,” Prebble explains, “but it doesn’t have the color and outrageous terror that the U.S. holds at the moment. I’m very drawn to where the thing is happening. If we were living in Roman times, I would want to live in Rome. Also, as a writer, the psychologies involved are so . . .” She hunts for a word. “Lurid? And kind of fascinating.”
As a tech and gaming fan, Prebble’s dreams include creating and writing her own video game. (She has scripted one and warns against leaving that massive segment of the entertainment industry to “people interested in making money out of the worst impulses in humanity.”) She finally has another play (about Russia) in the works, which she hopes will be staged next season in London.
“It’s a very big sort of vaudevillian piece,” Prebble says. “It’s incredibly dark but, I think, funny, and basically about the degradation of the idea of truth.”
Maybe that work will come to the United States in a way that “Enron” still hasn’t. She’s philosophical about that play, and she gets that Americans may not like the cautionary economic fable as told by an outsider.
“It’s an annoying tone,” Prebble says of the finger-wagging. “Nobody likes that, apart from the Brits. .”
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300 or studiotheatre.org
Dates: Wednesday through Oct. 29.