UNDER THE SKIN
by Michael Hollinger
Director: Alan Shorter
Stage Manager: Megan Beddingfield
Lighting Design: John Leach
Set Design: Clare Floyd DeVries
Costume Design: Sarah Tonemah
Sound Design: David H.M. Lambert
Prop Design: Kyle Montgomery
Stormi Demerson – Marlene Hayes, Dr. Badu, Barista
Mark Fickert – Lou Ziegler
Sam Henderson – Jarrell Hayes, Hector
Alexandra Lawrence – Raina Lamott
Reviewed Performance: 3/30/2016
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Circle Theatre has been one of my favorite spots to experience new works and artistic explorations. It is with this spirit that I attended the performance of Under the Skin by Michael Hollinger. I previously enjoyed another Hollinger play, Hope and Gravity, also at Circle Theatre, and this seemed a sure guarantee for a delightful evening.
I was sadly disappointed this time around, largely due to a script that lacked the depth the plot could have provided and that was high on meaningless dialogue and oddly placed brevity in the midst of a heavy topic.
The play examines the lives of a father and daughter. Father is dying and needs a kidney transplant – daughter hates father and is trying to decide whether to donate one of hers. Although the characters are fairly well developed, the situations they find themselves in are cliché and predictable. The transition of the daughter from a rude, entitled woman with a chip on her shoulder to a more empathetic sort is unexplained and unbelievable. Throughout the action, in fact, it is difficult to care much about any of the characters or their decisions. Because the plot is designed to have some surprises, I don’t want to spoil anything, just in case you don’t figure the whole thing out within the first quarter of the show like I did.
I have always believed that a play that relies on a narrator is a play that was not adequately written and this play has loads of narration in the form of short moments with a character breaking the fourth wall and explaining to the audience what we may not have understood in the previous scene and what is to come in the next. These moments of narration are accompanied by lighting that helps the audience to pay attention to the narrator while the actors who are in the dark are usually not aware of what is being said. There were a couple of times in this play where even the actors in the dark suddenly became a part of the action in the light and this became very confusing.
Hollinger seemed to be unclear about his own intentions. The play initially seemed to be about the relationship between a father and daughter, then about organ donation. At the end of the play, one of the characters informed us the real meaning of the play was a commentary about those that have choosing to keep things from those that don’t.
All of my comments about the script itself should not be taken to mean that this production was not well done. The cast and crew did a respectable job with the material they had available to them.
The action took place mainly in a hospital room. The room was furnished in a way that, with changes in lighting, designed by John Leach, various parts of the room doubled as a living room, a hospital room, or a coffee shop. The set, designed by Clare Floyd DeVries was very well done. The hospital room was sparsely furnished with ugly linoleum tile and boring brown woodwork, just as one would expect in a hospital. A framed door suggested the entrance to the room as well as the front door of the daughter’s apartment. The economy of the set enabled the action to be performed without any scene changes, which kept the pace from slowing between scenes.
Costume design by Sarah Tonemah was adequate to the action, but was monotonous. Each character had one costume during the entire play. A change of clothing would have been a nice way to reinforce the passage of time.
The acting prowess of Sam Henderson in the dual roles of Jarrell Hayes and Hector was present with every facial expression, the use of a dialect for one of the characters, and a believable demeanor throughout the play. Henderson’s timing was spot on with each line and he provided the impetus of much of the laughter throughout the evening.
Equally talented, Stormi Demerson portrayed three characters - Marlene Hayes, Dr. Badu, and Barista. In each of the roles, Demerson efficiently modified her tone and attitude to portray the needed compassion, intellect, and sass to help her audience connect with the action.
The role of Lou Ziegler, the would-be kidney recipient, was played by Mark Fickert. Fickert was energetic and consistent in his portrayal. His accent and demeanor was occasionally distracting and resulted in a lack of depth in this character at times that could have been complex.
Alexandra Lawrence’s portrayal of Raina Lamott, Ziegler’s daughter, was also consistent and never faltered. Lawrence’s Lamott came across as a loud, angry, and unpleasant woman. This rigidity made it difficult to believe there was any compassion residing within this character.
The strongest and most memorable scene of the evening could be attributed to Lawrence and Henderson in one of the only scenes that did not involve a hospital bed. The two superbly delivered line after line with great timing and magnetism.
Overall, the play itself was a disappointment, but the cast and crew did their best to entertain their audience. The message it sought to deliver was lost somewhere in the dialogue.
There is some strong language and adult situations.
UNDER THE SKIN
230 West Fourth Street
Fort Worth, Texas
Runs through May 21
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturday matinee at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets are $20-38, based on performance and seating.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.circletheatre.com or call the box office at 817.877.3040.