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Stephen Brumble, Jr., Teresa L. Goding, Leo Lauer, Carey Crim,
and Andrew J. Hoff in The Kidney
(Photo © Broken Watch Theatre Company)
Organ donation is rife with comic potential and playwright Hunt Holman mines the dark humor of the subject in his new comedy, The Kidney. The results are uneven. At its best, the play is a delightfully skewed look at the selfishness of "altruistic" behavior and the coping mechanisms that people use to carry on their everyday, sometimes miserable lives. Unfortunately, the production is dragged down by overly long scene changes and an inconsistency of tone.

The majority of the laughs come in the first act. Mark (Leo Lauer) suffers from high blood pressure and kidney failure; he needs a transplant in order to live. His girlfriend, Kelly (Teresa L. Goding), is more than happy to give him one of her kidneys but Leo is suspicious of her motives. He asks, "This isn't a last ditch attempt to save our relationship?" Other people in Mark's life willingly offer him a kidney or are pressured into considering it. His best friend, Bill (Andrew J. Hoff), is overly eager to donate; he also volunteers his wife, Helen (Carey Crim), and Mark's brother, Tate (Stephen Brumble Jr.). When these three plus Kelly squabble over whose kidney is the best, it's an absurd, hilarious competition.

Lauer as Mark has a neurotically morose aura as the character obsesses over his own faults and wrong decisions. Hoff's Bill is a dim-witted buffoon and the actor plays him with an exaggerated forcefulness; his account of the creative visualization he does to get through each day of his life is the comic highlight of the evening as well as one of the most disturbing passages in the entire play. Tate is somewhat of a cipher and Brumble's portrayal of him varies from scene to scene. At times, he's quiet and reserved; at other times, he's almost venomously cruel. In the opening scene of the second act, Tate hyperactively expounds upon his mad scheme to move to Norway and restart his life. This should be a moment of revelation for the character but Brumble's acting here seems false and contributes to the unevenness of tone that plagues the production.

There are also major inconsistencies in the depictions of the play's two female characters, who go from caricatured stereotypes in the first act to (supposedly) more grounded women in the second. In Kelly's case, the shift is signaled by the removal of a tacky wig that she wears only in Act I. Goding and Crim also play the second act more naturalistically. (The Kidney does not have a particularly feminist bent; these characters are just as guilty of selfish motivations as are the men.) Some of the Act II scenes don't work very well at all. For example, a confrontation that ensues betwtween Tate and Bill as Mark lies in his hospital bed awaiting his surgery is forced and too quickly resolved, and a drug-induced dream that Mark experiences while recovering from the procedure seems out of place.

Director Drew DeCorleto establishes a high-energy, farcical tone at the beginning but allows that energy to dissipate during the scene changes. Costume designer Jito Lee has the characters change outfits frequently, presumably to show the passage of time, but this only serves to slow the pace. The rest of the design elements (set, lighting, and sound) are uncredited; this may partly explain the awkwardness of the transitions from one scene to the next.

The Kidney is the fourth major production of the enterprising Broken Watch Theatre Company. Although both the script and the production are flawed, there's enough that's good about the show to make it worth seeing. The dark, twisted conclusion of the play is noteworthy in that it leaves the audience laughing and groaning in horrified disbelief.

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