The Fountain Theatre gives Zayd Dohrn’s powerful personal drama Reborning a Los Angeles Premiere that easily rivals those productions that have scored the Fountain more Ovation Award nominations and wins than any other intimate L.A. theater.
If ever there was a play that defies easy description, it is Reborning. The Chance Theater called it “A Psychological Thriller” in its 2013 SoCal Premiere. The Fountain dubs it “an edgy comedy-drama.” The former raises expectations of Grand Guignol damsel-in-distress thrills that won’t be met. The latter is a bit too frivolous sounding for a play as weighty as Reborning.
I’ll leave it for you to decide how best to describe the gripping theatrical experience that an expert team of L.A. talents has brought to electrifying life at the Fountain.
Suffice it to say that Dohrn’s play centers on a 20something doll-maker (Joanna Strapp as Kelly) whose creations are neither Barbie clones nor Cabbage Patch wannabes but rather such true-to-life infants that someone seeing one of them in a baby stroller or being held by its “mother” could easily be fooled into thinking it’s the real thing. As to just why anyone would want such a dolly, Kelly doesn’t (or at least she claims she doesn’t) give this a moment’s thought.
40something Emily (Kristin Carey), who has commissioned one of these dolls, arrives on Kelly’s doorstep one day to check up on her progress, which any other potential buyer would likely find more than satisfactory. Emily, however, expresses a certain dissatisfaction in the baby’s skin tones, which seem too rosy for an honest-to-goodness babe in arms, and she offers to pay extra for additional work to be done, money which Kelly refuses to accept. Her dolls come satisfaction guaranteed, she reminds the older woman.
This is not the first time Emily will pay Kelly a visit.
Completing the cast of characters is Kelly’s live-in boyfriend Daizy (Ryan Doucette), so named by his parents for no other reason than their youthful hippydom, and if this seems a bit too cutesy, it does provide a clue as to how Daizy’s past differs from Kelly’s and Emily’s. Hippies may not provide their offspring with a so-called “normal” childhood, but there’s certainly nothing devastating or traumatic in being raised by aging flower children.
Playwright Dohrn takes this setup and uses it to powerful, moving effect in order to examine the various ways we choose to cope with loss. He also interjects just enough laughs to relieve tension when needed. (There’s a hilarious bit revolving around Daizy’s work with latex, for example.)
Under Simon Levy’s adept direction, Reborning’s trio of leads all give powerful, richly-layered performances.
Strapp, one of our most dynamic young L.A. theater artists, tops even her Best Actress Scenie-winning performance as Li’l Bit in Paula Vogel’s How I Learned To Drive five years back, which is saying something indeed. Not only does Strapp give us Kelly’s anger and vulnerability and grit, she is fearless in going to the character’s deepest, darkest places and resists the temptation to make the doll-maker “likeable” when she is at her most churlish. It is as compelling a performance as you’ll see all year, and the perfect match-up of actress and role.
Recent Nova Scotia-to-California transplant Doucette (who shared star-billing with Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in the recent Sundance hit Cloudburst) makes an exciting Los Angeles theater debut opposite Strapp and Carey (who give Cloudburst’s Oscar-winning duo a run for their money). Doucette’s Daizy is charismatic, ingratiating, sensitive, playful, and funny, i.e. everything Dohrn could have wished for when writing the role and the actor is one we will hopefully be seeing a good deal more of on our stages.
The cast’s younger leads may have the showier roles, but the marvelous Carey is more than up to the challenge of bringing to life a character who hides oceans of pain and loss under a businesslike surface, a layer of steel beneath which lurk the pain of misfortune, decades of regret, and the undying longing for a fresh start, regardless of the odds against her.
Jeff McLaughlin’s as always splendid scenic design recreates Kelly and Daizy’s Queens apartment and studio with flair and an attention to the details provided by prop/set dressing designer Misty Carlisle. Naila Aladdin Sanders’ costumes are a perfect match for each character. Jennifer Edwards’ excellent lighting ups the dramatic ante throughout, as does Peter Bayne’s sensational sound design and original music.
As it was at the Chance, Matthew Schleicher’s striking video design is an integral part of Dohrn’s script (at one key moment in particular), and there wouldn’t be another Reborning without once again the dolls created by Amy Karich of Amy’s Dollhouse.
Reborning is produced by Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs. James Bennett is associate producer. Terri Roberts is production stage manager. Nicole Shawna Voragen is assistant stage manager and Scott Tuomey technical director.
Riveting and ultimately redemptive, Reborning is neither “psychological thriller” nor cookie-cutter “comedy-drama” (no matter how edgy it may indeed be). What it is is Los Angeles theater at its world-class best.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles.
January 29, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger