Fight or Flee? Choose Flee

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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.


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

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