Fight or Flee? Choose Flee

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.



The worst aspect of the super strain of SARS that is
terrorizing the South in Matthew Maguire’s new drama Instinct is that it’s targeting the wrong people. Mothers of
triplets are dropping, and kindly old men with basset hounds are falling down
dead in their kitchens—but the two couples working at Atlanta’s Center for
Disease Control are, unhappily, spared.

Why such dreary, navel-gazing, selfish, loud people are
allowed to not only survive but to thrive is one of the mysteries of Instinct—which is high on unintentional
humor and low on anything that makes for good theater. Director Michael Kimmel
shows a propensity for having his cast follow up melodramatic pronouncements by
turning away and facing a wall; the fights and feuds that they are engaged in
take centerstage, while the epidemic they are allegedly battling becomes an
after thought.

What’s even more remarkable is just how petty and unoriginal
the arguments are. Married couple Mara (Kim Blair) and Daniel (Jeffrey Withers)
are furious with each other because she wants a child and he doesn’t. Lesbians
Lydia (Maggie Bofill, whose performance is rooted in a Russian accent) and
Fermina (Amirah Vann) are constantly annoyed by Lydia’s careerism and Fermina’s
unhappiness with it. In the face of such monstrous differences, what’s a few
dead people?

Staged on a painfully low-budget set from Ben Kato that
consists mostly of immobile panels and some blocks, Instinct goes nowhere and takes the most circuitous route there.
(The no-frills production also includes one set of costumes for everyone, which
leaves Lydia and Fermina fighting SARS in stiletto heels.) None of the quartet
of actors are comfortable with the scientific jargon that Maguire occasionally
remembers to drop into the scenes, between screamed recriminations, and no one
can do much with fights over being a Catholic scientist or the sudden
importance of having a child while the world is falling apart around them. A
major fight between Mara and Daniel is interrupted by Lydia and Fermina,
breathless with a breakthrough, and Daniel is actually annoyed at the
interruption. If these scientists are indicative of the people responsible for
saving lives in the face of fast-spreading disease, the United States doesn’t
stand a chance.

Instinct

Through Feb. 4,
Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), www.telecharge.com;
$18.

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