Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Reborning": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

There is so much going on under the surface in Zayd Dohrn's new "Reborning," which had its World Premiere last night at San Francisco Playhouse, that the play itself, which is frequently brilliant, can be taken prisoner by the overwhelming weirdness of its true-to-life subject matter.

"Reborning," the play, deals with the real-life practice of reborning, an art form where women who have (usually) suffered the loss of a small child go to dollmakers, the 'reborning' experts, who craft unbelievably lifelike replicas of these lost children. They are dolls, made out of silicone and other materials, but they are so lifelike we defy you to realize these are not live children, when dressed in baby clothes and strolled or carried in arms by the mother.

How do we know this? Michelle, who created the Eva doll used in the play, came to the show opening and displayed Eva at the post-opening cast party. They told us it was a doll. We knew it was a doll. But it looked so real it gave us -- there is no other way to put it -- the creeps.

Dohrn's story is a fascinating psychological drama featuring three actors. The principal character is Kelly (Lauren English), an artist who has fallen into the design of these lifelike dolls. She is teetering on the edge of psychological breakdown herself, the reasons for which the author allows us to discover a little bit at a time. Her boyfriend Daizy (Alexander Alioto) is also a sculptor: he manufactures (and walks around displaying) realistic dildos.

Enter Emily (Lorri Holt, who was so good in SF Playhouse's "Animals Out of Paper"), who has hired Kelly to make her a doll in the likeness of Emily's lost child Eva. But Kelly cannot satisfy Emily's need. No matter how real Kelly makes her Eva doll, it is never enough for the bereft mom. "I can't sculpt your memory," Kelly says, as she labors in vain to make the doll even more lifelike.

So we have the reborner living with the dildo maker, two people whose jobs are to blur reality for their customers. Then Kelly has her artistic breakthrough and the plot explodes. Too much reality is more than any of the three can handle.

We get excellent acting, plenty of drama with an equal amount of humor, skillful writing and spot-on directing. There are no slow moments. Be warned that the Creep Factor cannot be ignored and that may influence how you feel about a show that feels astonishingly well crafted for a World Premiere. The dolls made us squirm. But we loved "Reborning."


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Reborning" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. Lauren English and Lorri Holt were spellbinding; Alexander Alioto's Daizy could have been developed a bit more (the art school graduate who manufactures dildos seems awfully mom-and-pop-apple-pie right now). But the show grabs you and doesn't let you go -- seventy five minutes with no intermission pass in a heartbeat.

The BANGLE OF PRAISE is for the audacity of this show. Mr. Dohrn is writing for TV now, and we can see "Reborning" having a future there as well.

San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through June 11

1 comment:

Unknown said...

A powerful, moving - and at some times - an overwhelming play. It is initially deceptive, for we are not quite sure what we are seeing. And there is an intensity deeply woven into the dialog.
As the facts emerge, we begin to see and feel the intense pain of the protagonist and those around her as well.
The playwright is quite skillful at involving us in exploring the profound emotional cost of losing a child, especially if the child is the protagonist herself.

Highly recommended, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea.