Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Instinct" - More than a bit of a misfire

By Judd Hollander
Photos by Gerry Goodstein

Instinct is a play with a lot of potential but sadly ends up feeling like a speed read through an epidemiology text, with playwright Matthew Maguire trying to hit way too many targets in this 85-minute work.

The story centers on husband and wife epidemiologists Mara (Kim Blair) and Daniel (Jeffrey Withers), and vaccinologists Lydia (Maggie Bofill) and Fermina (Amirah Vann), Lydia and Fermina also being long-time lovers. Mara, at age 32, is hearing her biological ticking and wants to have a baby, but Daniel, who likes things just the way they are, balks at the idea. He even talks about having a vasectomy to prevent any so-called accidents. Needless to say this does not sit well with Mara, who begins to look for other options. Meanwhile Lydia has continual problems opening up to Fermina even after 16 years together, leaving Fermina feeling somewhat alone and not above flirting with Daniel. Even though, as Daniel points out, he "plays for the other team". Lydia is also totally driven in regards to her work, often wanting to publish research before Fermina feels they're ready to do so.

This foursome is brought together when health authorities confirm the outbreak of a new strain of SARS, one which quickly becomes an epidemic. As more and more cases and fatalities are reported, the group races to find a vaccine while various personal issues continually bring them into conflict. It's also not long before questions of medical ethics are debated, such as the dilemma of giving placebos to control groups during this time of crisis, and whether to start making a possible vaccine available before clinical trials are completed. The matter of religion also comes into the mix, with Lydia being an atheist and Mara a churchgoer. With all these variables constantly emerging, it's not surprising the team often seems on the verge of being torn apart by internal strife.

Instinct might be a very interesting play if only Maguire wasn't trying to shoehorn in quite so much information, as well as not going far enough with the material he does include. It would have been more interesting for example, if Mara was more devoutly religious than she initially implies. In addition, this particular story thread is quickly dropped and never mentioned again, so one wonders why bring it up at all. Another problem is that the text makes too much use of technical jargon with not enough emphasis on the human factor. It's as if the performers were reading from a medical paper rather than presenting a play. It also might have worked better if Maguire had picked another virus than SARS, the subject of which has already been extensively covered, and used a disease with a bit more mystery to it.

Direction by Michael Kimmel is only so-so, his efforts pretty much suffocated by the excess and at times cloying dialogue. Not to mention a storyline that needs to move faster and be laced with more emotional impact. The cast tries their best but with so many diverse elements to cover, none of the characters really resonate and so it's difficult to care about their situations. The playwright also has a habit of dealing with absolutes in the story, such as with Mara and Daniel's arguments regarding having a baby, rather than looking at more open-ended possibilities. The set by Ben Kato is adequate, though his lighting effects used when the different cast members continually announce the latest status of the epidemic start to feel repetitious rather quickly.

Sad to say, there's not much to recommend in Instinct, a case where the playwright's own convictions and judgment seems to have failed him.

Featuring Kim Blair (Mara Carracci), Jeffrey Withers (Daniel Kempe), Maggie Bofill (Lydia Makarova), Amirah Vann (Fermina Santos).

Set and Light Design: Ben Kato
Costume Design: Christina Bullard
Music by Andrew Ingkavet
Stage Manager: Christine D'Amore
Associate Costume Design: Nina Bova
Technical Director; John Ralston
Assistant Stage manager; Michelle Heller
House Manager: Kathleen Longazel
Press Representation: O&M Co.
Presented by Creation Production Company

Lion Theatre
Theatre Rows Studios
410 West 42nd Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Closes February 4, 2012

No comments: