Play Review: Under the Skin

January 29, 2016

Photo: Keith L. Royal Smith as Jarrell, Megan Anderson as Raina, Mitchell Hébert as Lou and Alice M. Gatling as Dr. Badu in Michael Hollinger’s play  “Under the Skin.”  Photo by ClintonBPhotography.



By Peter Young


On a quiet Sunday evening, as single-mother Raina makes an honest effort to tuck her daughter in bed, she hears a loud knocking on her door. Well, that’s strange for the quiet suburbs of Ohio, she thinks, as she cautiously makes her way to the front of her house. Anxious of who could be outside, she opens the door ever so slightly and, in an instant, her heart sinks. It’s her estranged father, Lou, here from Philadelphia, and that can only mean one thing: he wants something.


Is blood truly thicker than water? Michael Hollinger’s Under the Skin dissects familial relations at the intersection of organ donation. The play takes an authentic look at whether blood relation is truly enough to justify giving a kidney to the father who had affairs, held secrets, and ran away from his family for much of Raina’s life. This thought-provoking piece questions the sorts of obligations we feel bound to by our blood relationship with family. All the while, Hollinger tastefully mentions difficult questions plaguing the contemporary bioethics community.


As Lou lies in his hospital bed, with health declining, we are confronted with whether he should be able to purchase a kidney, and what sort of entitlement people have to their own bodies. Raina, who is on the fence about donating to her father, meets a young, handsome man, Jarrell, who plans to give his kidney away to a family friend with no blood relation. Raina wonders if she can ever get over her father’s flaws to fulfill what society tells her is right. As time ticks, however, Lou’s health hangs in the balance.


Hollinger says the play was inspired by a title, “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” which popped into his head one evening as he was tucking his daughter into bed. Months later, he came across an article where two children were fighting to be the kidney donor for their father. From there, he thought, “my play title might deal with kidney transplant.”


Drawing from transplantation research and interviews with donors, recipients, and medical personnel, Hollinger crafted his play to show a realistic picture of what transplantation looks like in the 21st century. Many of the family issues related to estrangements between parents and children, he says, came from personal experiences. Click here for the full interview.


Under the Skin is a must-see for nurses, physicians, philosophers, bioethicists, and anyone interested in difficult medical questions. While organ transplantation plays a pivotal role in this story, patient rights issues and privacy concerns are subtly ingrained in each scene. Further, by seeing complex care scenarios acted out on stage, the tough ethical questions become more striking and palatable. Playing at Baltimore’s Everyman Theater now through February 21, tickets range between $25-$60. For more information, call 410-752-2208 or go to

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Peter Young

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