Los Angeles Theater Review: REBORNING (Fountain)

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by Paul Birchall on January 27, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

UNTO US A CHILD IS MADE

This fascinating drama by playwright Zayd Dohrn is set in the bizarre subculture of women who buy dolls that eerily resemble actual babies. Can this possibly be enough material here for a play?  There are many reasons for buying super-realistic baby dolls, one supposes – you could collect them, or swing them about by their feet, or poke their little noses, or practice CPR on them.  However, this play focuses on certain type of collector – the grieving mother of a dead infant, who buys the terrifyingly realistic doll to dress it up and treat it like a “real” child.

Ryan Doucette and Joanna Strapp in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.

The contextual backdrop is enough to instill unease from the start, and that might indeed be a point of Dohrn’s play – we don’t feel like we’re in a comprehensible world, but rather one in which characters are tossed within the waves of mental instability and grief.

Joanna Strapp in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.

Kelly (Joanna Strapp) is a deeply disturbed young woman, abandoned as an infant and horrifically scarred on her hands, who has eked out a living for herself as a designer and builder of “reborning” dolls.  She also self-medicates herself into despairing numbness through pills, booze, and meaningless sex with her boss/erstwhile boyfriend Daizy (Ryan Doucette), who constructs gigantic rubber dildos out of the same rubber used for the dolls.

Joanna Strapp and Ryan Doucette in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.

The play opens with a quite shocking image:  Kelly is seen, leaning over her worktable.  The image of what she’s working on — it seems to be a baby’s face — is broadcast on a widescreen TV behind her.  Yes, it’s a sweet little baby — and Kelly’s sharp sewing needle moves slowly towards the baby’s eyeball before giving it a good poke!  Not to worry, though:  The image is merely the doll Kelly is working on.

Joanna Strapp in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.

Kelly’s latest client is high powered attorney Emily (Kristin Carey), who uses brittle bossiness to compensate for her deeply buried grief over the death of her own infant daughter some years ago.  Although the doll Kelly has made for Emily is a dead ringer for the long lost child, Emily’s desperate need for near-perfection forces Kelly to make revision after revision to the nasty little dainty.  As the process continues, though, Kelly starts to develop suspicions that Emily might be closer to her than she has at first realized – and the thought causes her to begin to unravel.

Kristen Carey and Joanna Strapp in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.

If one can leap the hurdles caused by the weirdness of the essential premise, director Simon Levy’s production is an artful attempt to depict emotions that are, at their core, irrational and based on uncontrollable needs.  There is certainly a precedent for the notion of woman focusing their maternal desires on inanimate objects; in medieval times, nuns would make stone cradles for models of the infant Jesus and would play with them like they were real babies.  And, yet, in some ways Dohrn is writing a riff on a surrogate mother story:  Kelly is the birth mother of this doll creature, which Emily seeks to adopt.

Kristen Carey in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.The trouble is, the doll premise adds an ancillary layer of weird sickness that is hard to psychologically identify with.  Kelly is afflicted with more damage than a crushed up Tickle Me Elmo, true, but the character’s leaps of logic don’t make sense in a believable way.  And if she’s this quick to emotionally unravel, why would she be in this business in the first place?  It really doesn’t make sense.

This Fountain Theatre outing is strongly character-driven – and that’s good, because the plot is strangely inert, while the writing, top heavy with languid monologues aspiring for inclusion in an acting school monologue text, is a little sluggish.  However, it’s to Levy’s credit that the characters are as sympathetic as they are, given the intrinsic oddness of their setting.  As brittle, often hatefully self-loathing Kelly, Strapp still manages to showcase unexpected layers of vulnerability, even though we don’t buy the supposedly growing affection between her and Carey’s quite lovely, grieving Emily.  This is probably a play that would benefit from another round of editing and refocusing, to tone up the pacing and rev up the logical underpinnings of the relationships – but there’s certainly no need to throw out the baby doll with the bathwater.

Joanna Strapp in REBORNING at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. Photo by Ed Krieger.photos by Ed Krieger

Reborning
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on March 15, 2015
for tickets, call (323) 663-1525
or visit Fountain Theatre

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