ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

In Zayd Dohrn’s “Reborning” at SF Playhouse, an artist creates life-like infant dolls that serve as a form of therapy for her select clients, May 9- June 11, 2011

Lorri Holt, Baby Eva & Lauren English in Zay Dohrn's "Reborning" which has its world premiere at SF Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Cleaning up the unfinished business of the emotional past  is the theme of Zayd Dohrn’s engrossing play Reborning which had its world premiere Saturday at SF Playhouse.   This brilliantly acted drama takes an unsettling look at wounding from childhood and mothering experiences that can linger and enmesh adults in sadness, anxiety, obsession, and addiction.  Reborning also exposes the audience to a very unconventional healing path.   Continuing on a season that has offered one  provocative performance after another, Susi Damilano and Bill English, who run SF Playhouse, have found an exceptional talent in Zayd Dohrn.  Dohrn, the son of former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, has won the respect of audiences and critics all over for his plays, several of which  harken back to issues in childhood.

Reborning is the story of Kelly (Lauren English), a twenty something artist whose “Little Angels Nursery” fabricates custom made infant dolls for clients who have lost a child or have a need for a replica of a child and of Emily, her client who commissions a custom doll.  The play unfolds on multiple levels as it explores the fascinating and obscure real-world reborning phenomenon which most of us probably have no idea even exists. Grossly simplified, reborning is an attempt to recreate and relive the past.  Artists fabricate unbelievably lifelike human infant dolls that fill certain psychological needs for them and for the clients who buy them.  Clients commission custom-made dolls or “adopt” already created baby dolls.  They then live with and care for them as they would real infants.

In Zayd Dohrn's "reborning" which has its worldpremiere at SF Playhouse, Lauren English plays Kelly, an artist who creates reborning dolls. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

In Reborning, Kelly’s special artistic talent for satisfying her clients’ exacting demands by replicating dolls solely from photographs is what she stakes her reputation on.  The play opens with a highly unsettling image—Kelly is crouched over a worktable, surgically implanting individual eyelashes into her baby’s eyelids with sharp puncturing tools, finishing flourishes on her latest artwork.  Her process is cleverly made available to the audience through a camera set-up that magnifies everything in gargantuan detail for her on a large screen.  And the details are astonishing—a life size latex baby replete with wrinkles, folds, drools, and hair whirls is painstakingly painted with layers and layers of paint right down to its flaking skin and unique retinal patterning. 

The play focuses on her relationship with her client Emily played masterfully by Lorri Holt–who appeared last year at SF Playhouse in Rajiv Joseph’s Animals Out of Paper.  Emily is a brusk 50-something career woman who lost her infant daughter Eva some 25 years ago, and has commissioned Kelly to create a replica.  When Emily expresses some reservations about the quality of Kelly’s work, a whole range of emotions are triggered that send Kelly spiraling back into her own tragic childhood abandonment—she was stabbed and left for dead in a dumpster.   As Kelly begins to suspect that Emily is her birthmother, and that she has actually been commissioned to replicate her own infant self, she turns to familiar coping mechanisms—drugs and alcohol.  There is something in Emily that we can all relate to–she was thrown in a dumpster at birth but we’ve all been dumped at some point in our lives by people we should have been able to count on.  The sting of that can really mess with the mind and resurface in subsequent relationships.      

In "Reborning" Kelly (Lauren English) and Daizy (Alexander Alioto) find their sex drives out of sync when Kelly starts to process her childhood wounding. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

In "Reborning" Kelly (Lauren English) and Daizy (Alexander Alioto) find their sex drives out of sync when Kelly starts to process her childhood wounding. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

The play is loaded with poignancy and layers of symbolism.   If you’ve ever done therapy around childhood trauma, you may be familiar with any number of therapeutic processes that encourage revisiting the past and nurturing your inner child as a form of self-healing.  On one level, merely watching Reborning fast-tracks the cathartic aspect of this process.  Kelly’s and Emily’s visceral interaction with baby Eva, who symbolizes different aspects of the wounded self, and with each other is painfully real.  Dohrn’s ability to write these utterly complex female roles so believably, as if he’s right up inside their heads and defenses, is uncanny.  

Kelly’s partner, Daizy, (Alexander Alioto), is also meticulously crafted as a loving and devoted, but basically helpless, witness to her meltdown.  Daizy, who has neither experienced Kelly’s painful trauma around abandonment nor Emily’s maternal loss, is the vehicle through which the young couple’s issues around intimacy and childbearing are brought out.  He wants to talk; she wants to escape.  His humor provides relief from the paralyzing  pain playing out on stage and his courage to support his woman through validating her process is a message all partners need to heed. 

Directed by Josh Costello. Set Nina Ball; lighting, Michael Palumbo; sound design, Cliff Caruthers; video, Kristin Miltner; costumes, Miyuki Bierlein, props, Jacqueline Scott; doll designers, Cher Simnitt, Stef Baldwin, and Illusions of Life.

Details: Reborning runs 85 minutes without intermission. The SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (one block off Union Square, between Powell & Mason Streets).  Performances: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., plus Saturdays at 3 p.m.  Tickets: ($30-$50) SF Playhouse box office (415) 677-9596, or  www.sfplayhouse.org

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May 9, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment