nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
January 17, 2012
In Matthew Maguire’s new drama Instinct, we learn that diseases and animals usually adapt more quickly than humans. The four characters in this story are all scientists who work at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. There is the heterosexual couple, Mara (Kim Blair) and Daniel (Jeffrey Withers), who met while studying species in the wild and are now absorbed in their lab work. When Mara announces she wants to have a baby, Daniel replies he has never wanted one. Then there is the lesbian couple, Lydia (Maggie Bofill) and Fermina (Amirah Vann), who hear of an outbreak of S.A.R.S. which is much more contagious than the 2003 strain. The researchers start working harder to cure the disease, which is endangering Daniel’s family in Alabama.
The news that Alabama preachers have called the disease a divine punishment provokes a very, very long debate about religion. Lydia is not only a Russian atheist but someone called an “abomination” by the Church. She has also become addicted to painkillers after an operation a while back. Mara is a scientist who goes to Mass, meaning that she believes there is something bigger than herself. She tells Daniel that she wants a divorce, which he will not allow because they work so well together. Mara then gets herself artificially inseminated. She has explained to Daniel how terrible it is that he has failed to change.
The science discussed in Instinct is fascinating. Two-time Obie Award winner Matthew Maguire was commissioned by Emory University to write a play based on topics from their Science and Evolution Conference in 2008. There is a lot of human drama in the way these characters want to cure the disease but must first contend with bigots who don’t approve of science as well as the regulations that prevent unethical experiments on humans. There is some sadness that our species embraces Darwin’s ideas less now than ever before. The subplot about pregnancy I found a little harder to believe.
Director Michael Kimmel is to be commended for showing us the stress that causes four people to fight and make up so many times over the course of an epidemic. While they race to find the cure, sixteen years of secrets come out. The Russian stoicism of Maggie Bofill as Lydia is a good balance to the Latina expressiveness of Amirah Vann as Fermina, Ben Kato’s set and lighting are futuristic and sterile, and are a good backdrop to new life. Christina Bullard’s costumes are smart, scientific, as well as sexy. Andrew Ingkavet’s music notches up the tension even more.