By Jen Brown
We don't live in a perfect world or lead perfect lives. We live, we die and in between, for a good portion of the time, we yearn. In "Reborning", the writer (Zayd Dohrn) focuses on a unique kind of yearning, the yearning (and suffering) of women who for a variety of reasons desire to own hand crafted, life-like dolls as replacement babies. These women put in their orders to Reborners. Reborners is the name given to the artists and craftspeople who construct these spooky little darlings and their skills are in the sculpting of people's hopes and dreams or as in Dohrn's outstanding, compelling piece of theatre, nightmares.
The story revolves around KELLY (Joanna Strapp), an alcoholic artist or Reborner who is damaged by her own horrific entrance into existence, her live-in boyfriend, DAIZY (Ryan Doucette), also an artist who possesses the skill of fashioning impressive male appendages to order, and EMILY (Kristen Carey,) a picky customer who complains at every turn that the 'baby' she ordered still looks like a doll and not her dead baby girl. KELLY starts to believe that the demanding EMILY might be the mother who abandoned her at birth and that the doll she is currently working on is non-other than a model of her baby self.
At the outset the macabre tone of the play is relayed as KELLY puts aside her work to answer the door, leaving the audience with a larger than life projected image of a needle sticking haphazardly from a baby doll's eye. This startling picture reveals the lack of emotional involvement KELLY has with her work - for now - and is a sufficiently unsettling precursor for the rest of us. All credit to the Video Designer (Matt Schleicher) for the scary baby doll eye images throughout the play. Blinking marvellous ...
The stage is divided into three spaces, encompassing a dusty, cluttered workshop, a living area with sofa, coffee table and large white board (which doubles as a TV screen) and an untidy kitchenette with empty wine and beer bottles scattered around. The screen allows the audience to almost become the artist and share close ups of her painstaking work. The shelves and benches laden with dolls and doll parts create an overall impression of broken people. Director, (Simon Levy), together with Set Designer, (Jeff McLaughlin), succeed in creating a tangible hopelessness in the visual 'mess', which reflects the jumbled lives of the folk who live there.
All three actors turn in stunning performances, bringing to life their characters' dilemmas, pain and palpable desperation. The light relief award has to go to Doucette for his impeccable timing and memorable displays of 'penis power', juxtaposing laughter onto an intensely, dark world. Strapp gives a powerful portrayal of a woman spiralling into an abyss, with her once satisfying art seemingly turning in on her, forcing her to acknowledge her empty lifestyle and isolation. Carey captures all the minutiae of a grieving mother and carries off the role with precision, aplomb and a neurotic kind of grace.
Lighting Designer (Jennifer Edwards) successfully casts a dim and depressing aura over the proceedings with only the blue skylight bringing a "there's a real life out there somewhere" feel to the gloominess of the doll world.
(Peter Bayne) and his SFX complement the disturbing tone of Dohrn's work , in particular, the irritating noise of the elevator coming up to the workshop is cranky enough to crank up tension and set the audience on edge. The guy sitting next to me physically braced himself as EMILY ascended for the umpteenth time; I believe he dreaded her next complaint! The music was upbeat, tense and edgy in all the right places, adding a 'grinding' pace to the unfolding drama.
The Wardrobe Department excelled in their costume choices. (Nail a Aladdin-Sanders) allowed the garb of the immaculately groomed EMILY to highlight the slovenliness of KELLY and DAIZY. Each outfit mirrored the personality of the wearer, emphasising their essences and flaws.
The reaction of the audience was intense and although there were many light moments, the atmosphere was mainly charged with emotion and compassion. You could hear a pin drop and feel the mass attentiveness as lost souls touched more than just each other.
"Reborning" encapsulates the themes of loss, loneliness, acceptance and much more. It is a moving revelation of people searching for a guiding light and a way of unshackling themselves from a life of yearning. It is beautifully portrayed and a 'must see' piece of theatre. DO NOT MISS IT!
Thru March 15 at The Fountain Theatre.