It is a lively and romantic night at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood on Fountain and Normandie, not the least of which is prompted by the enchanting nature of the venue itself. Nestled in a large and festive South of the Border house slightly resembling a restaurant (we’re not quite sure which) the café resides upstairs festooned by diverse and bohemian artwork along with orange and white Christmas lights, to speak nothing of the tables and couches facilitating any and all liquid and savory pre-performance celebration. Not only that, there are two sets of restrooms; one upstairs, flanking the café, and one downstairs, adjacent to the auditorium itself and neither so much as breaks the fourth wall—uncanny tour de force—no?—Particularly for a roughly 99 seater in Los Angeles: Nearly unheard of!!! The café is open not only before but after the performance for everyone’s enjoyment. And, considering the dramatic and harrowing nature of what we are about to witness pertaining to tonight’s play, we might just need it…long into the wee hours!
If a woman told you that she had lost her child—a baby presumably–and missed it so much that she ordered a lifelike doll for thousands of dollars as a makeshift replacement could you believe her?
In an article entitled “Meet the Women Who Treat Their “Reborn” Dolls Like Real Children” By Carey Dunne, the Reborning phenomenon originated in the late 1990s. “Some of the women who collect dolls have lost a baby or suffered from repeated miscarriages,” [including not being able to have children or the wherewithal to adopt]. “The doll design process—called “Reborning”—is elaborate and time-consuming. Each one takes weeks to Reborn. Creators hand-root each strand of mohair into a doll’s scalp. They replicate dewy newborn skin by adding 80 layers of paint to the vinyl molded baby, which then must be baked to be sealed. Some are then perfumed with new baby smell.” Consumers pay thousands and thousands of dollars for these recreations.
So fuels — Zayd Dohrn’s most recently penned play Reborning which examines a subject somewhat new and misunderstood via the world of lost parents. Set in a doll maker’s studio/apartment in present day New York, the space only echoes that of the play’s gestalt by bringing to mind an early 20th century factory at the onset of the cold, hard industrial revolution; the only nouveau-chill aspect pertaining to its 21st century output via hand hewn technology; little human replicas, along with faux immortalized body parts—Now on sale!
Twenty-something RISDI graduates in the form of a troubled and intense Kelly played by a genuine and focused Joanna Strapp, and the much more balanced, somewhat laissez fair Daizy (raised by hippie parents—hence the namesake) portrayed by a laugh-inducing, yet sympathetic Ryan Doucette, make a killing off the selling of their hollowed-out, passed-remembrances and dethatched corporeal appendages off a sad and narcissistic culture both respectively and interchangeably and it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. At times this is not lost on either of our artisans; “Women in Africa lose twelve of their babies to diarrhea. They just get knocked up again. They don’t have time to raise a plastic baby,” Daizy will observe in somewhat frustrated fashion as Kelly gets lost in her doll making miasma . “Oh yeah, like making dicks is a moral imperative,” Kelly will retort.
Irrespective of their questionable objects d’(subjective)art, both are unquestionably talented and sought after in the most anonymous of fashions via the most cold, hard, impersonal medium of them all: The Internet. The game changer will occur at the entrance of a polished and well put together business woman by the name of Emily played by a poised, earnest and positively stunning Kristin Carey. While sporting a relatively kind and gentle demeanor, it is evident that perfection has a hard handle on her life. Emily will visit the studio, unexpectedly no less, as both former RIDSI residents are behooven to extinguish their funny cigarettes and tidy up to make the place look just a little more commercially palatable (all in vain of course).
“Can I see her now?” Emily will rationally implore, of her emerging plastic child. “…Amazing attention to detail.”
Kelly will admit that the crippling OCD for which she is heavily medicated gives her a leg up on said minutia. The conversation will subtly steer itself around to Kelly’s former mode of employment under the ramrod precision of Daizy. Once the baby making business took off, however, “I gave Daizy my two dicks notice…”—and so from maker of baby makers to the making of babies she sprung (no pun intended) forth!
Emily will visit several times during the course of the story all the while doubting her deceased daughter’s authenticity, “…it isn’t working yet. She still looks like a doll to me… Sorry, I’m not the kind of person to send her dish back; she’s just not the way I remember her.”
“Well memories change after time,” Kelly can only respond.
Having worked with still images through the entire course of her career, and a point of preference as far as Kelly’s work is concerned, Emily will insist on giving her a video tape of her darling, deceased baby Eva hearkening all the way back to the 1990s. Kelly will watch pensively, possessing perhaps some hidden wistfulness, of her own childhood, her personal yearning for hesitant but closeted motherhood…? (though she eschews the very notion when brought to the fore by Daizy) What?
At a certain point, (and to defuse some dramatic tension perhaps) Daizy will prance through the living area sporting some bouncy plastic dicks—large, swaying, wobbly Jell-Oey dicks– suctioned to a tray–like some all too earnest butler-of-porn while the baby’s large and adorable head itself wobbles in its own curious newborn manner upon the screen. This waxes incongruously humorous yet, coupled with self exanimate discomfort it engenders; perhaps it shouldn’t. “Popcorn, Milkduds…?” Daizy will query after Kelly’s infant flick-fest, thusly breaking the tension-from-the-tension we, the audience, have collectively acknowledged needs severing.
Emily will demand excellence of Kelly gently but forcefully. This, amidst traumatic childhood remembrances of being abandoned, then wrapped in plastic and thrown into a dumpster while being burned and beaten as a child will lead to Kelly’s dramatic unraveling. In the midst of all this, Kelly will be subject to an inner epiphany as she begins to suspect that Emily is her long lost, abandoning mother. Kelly will then make an additional discovery even more life altering than the former and so the psycho-emotional unraveling continues.
The play, its actors, the writing, direction, set design and lighting are simply superb!
Joanna Strapp’s portrayal of Kelly is almost too close for comfort as I believed she rightly could have been that abused child. In instances of most pronounced pain, her voice has a slightly vociferous rasp to it which I can only associate with pain inextricably intertwined to one’s emotional DNA.
Kristin Carey as Emily is poised, dignified and emotional in all the right places; eyes tearing up as if on perfect cue one moment, composure completely restored the next. Is there a word for such a performance? Ah yes. Flowing and seamless I should daresay. Well, that’s two words but the emphasis is ripe for the picking in the related description.
Ryan Doucette is just a joy to watch and a palpable presence to draw in, particularly as his portrayal of Daizy along with the related character of Daizy himself broke up so much dramatic tension, yet calmed it in all the right and appropriate places.
Direction by Simon Levy; subtle as a whisper—as well it should be–yet sets a perfect pace for the unfolding of the edgy comedy/drama at hand. Not a beat is missed and the pacing–simply impeccable!
The set designed by Jeff McLaughlin may as well serve as an nth character. From its attention to detail to the palpable austerity of its symbolically materialistic echoes of the characters’ lives, it will draw the audience into its environs and set a decided mood for the unfolding tale at hand. Lighting design by Jennifer Edwards only bolsters this material world via light and shadow.
Playwright Zayd Dohrn has a most decided flair not only for dramatic tension, but dialogue that can defuse and enhance it at a moment’s notice, to speak nothing of original ideas. ‘Cause really. How many plays about the reborning movement have you seen recently? None? Righto. I thought not!
The play’s ending however left me with mixed feelings. I understand why the playwright wrote it the way he did as it is the strongest psychological choice for character development and an apt study in kind. However had the play gone the first speculated direction, (pertaining to long lost family members reuniting) I think it would have made for a much more compelling story. Nevertheless, the entire piece is still quite compelling and arresting regardless and comes highly recommended from yours truly!
Reborning runs until March 15th at the Fountain Theatre; 5060 Fountain Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90029.
For tickets and information please call or visit:
(323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com