Are You Done With Those Organs?

“Under The Skin” at Everyman Theatre Review by Diamond Pollard

Are you done with those organs?  Every 12 minutes, another name is added to the national transplant waiting list.

It is no wonder that Under The Skin, a comedy by Michael Hollinger directed by Vincent M. Lancisi at Everyman Theatre explores this relevant issue. The play is about a woman named Raina and her estranged father, Lou. At the beginning of the show, Lou shows up, uninvited, at Raina’s doorstep to ask for a kidney. Raina is apprehensive if not outraged.  Despite initially being detached, when Lou is hospitalized, Raina rushes to Philadelphia to be by her father’s side. As she grapples with whether or not her estranged father is “deserving” of her kidney, she meets a man, Jerrell, who is also preparing to become an organ donor. As Raina and Jerrell get to know each other, they discover that not only does Jerrell know Lou, but is his illegitimate son.

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Mitchell Hébert as Lou and Megan Anderson as Raina

The show featured a strong cast of four actors playing seven characters. However, only two of the four actors take on double roles: Alice M. Gatling (Marlene, Dr. Badu, & the Barista) and Keith L. Royal Smith (Jerrell & Hector). These transitions were disconcerting as the actors were introduced as a particular set of characters during the opening narration (which all actors participated in) and then flipped to another set of heavily accented characters without explanation.

Despite the confusion, there were many shining moments where the acting was both engaging and entertaining.  Mitchell Hébert’s performance as Lou was captivating. He made Lou come alive with nuances in his performance, like fidgeting in the hospital bed, indicating his character’s constant need for motion, adding a depth that made his backstory (an alcoholic that was constantly away from his family) even clearer when it was revealed. Hébert’s character served as the comedic center of the show, but still managed to gain the audience’s sympathy and respect by showing his character’s desire to reconnect with his daughter and right his past wrongs – like when he made an earnest attempt to read the book she had given him, despite its religious content.

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Anderson, Hébert, and Alice M. Gatling as Dr. Badu

However, Raina, played by Megan Anderson, came across as emotionless. There were certain scenes where I couldn’t figure out what her character was feeling. Her voice, while emphatic, did not fluctuate and her motions were constantly frantic, even when the scene did not require her to be so, thus I had to rely on the dialogue to infer the character’s thoughts in those scenes instead of the Anderson’s performance. When she cried at the show’s climax, I expected a significant change in her character for the rest of the show, but found none. Her character seemed to always be frenetic even when the scene didn’t demand it, leaving me emotionally unsatisfied by her performance because I was unable to experience the truth of her emotions.

Everyman Theatre’s production of Under the Skin sheds light on the serious issue and complicated nuances of organ donation. The show is entertaining and engaging, though sometimes heavy handed. This production runs until February 21, 2016 at Everyman Theatre on 315 W. Fayette Street in Baltimore.

Diamond Pollard is a Virginia native, currently residing in Baltimore. She is primarily a fiction writer.

Photo Credit: ClintonBPhotography 

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