If you have a fear of lifelike dolls, you should avoid Reborning at the Fountain Theatre. Otherwise you should really experience this remarkable play written by Zayd Dohrn about this specialized world. I don’t mean dolls that come to life like Chucky and create all manner of horror movie mayhem. I mean dolls that are so amazingly lifelike that people buy them, paying up to $2,500 each, and treat them as the young babies they so realistically resemble. But those eyes, those eyes are disturbing and not quite right.
The eyes are the major problem reborning sculptor Kelly faces with her latest client, Emily. Most of Kelly’s clients find her website and order their dolls online and she never meets them. But high powered business exec Emily is local to Kelly’s Queens, NY studio and she comes by often to check on the progress of little Eva. The process of creating one of these dolls can take a month. Kelly usually works from photographs if her buyers want to replicate a child they have lost. That is how she created Eva but Emily is not quite satisfied and Kelly aims to please. Emily brings a videotape, baby clothes, even a teething ring to help Kelly get Eva just the way Emily remembers her. Kelly argues that people’s memories can change over time but photographs don’t.
Both women are damaged goods and director Simon Levy skillfully leads his two dynamic actresses in uncovering every nuance that the playwright has written into his characters. Emily had Eva decades ago, she’s now past menopause. After taking six months maternity leave and nursing Eva, she returned to work. But Eva died before her first birthday. Emily still blames herself, never tried to have another child, got divorced and lost herself in her job. But when she came across one of Kelly’s creations seemingly asleep in a $900 baby carriage at the mall, she wanted one of her own. Kristin Carey is formidable and heart-breaking, often at the same time.
Emily usually keeps her latex gloves on, not only because she always seems to be working on a doll, but to cover up the burn scars on her hands. As a baby, she was left to die in a dumpster after having Drano poured over her little hands to remove her fingerprints. She was rescued, became a momentary sensation in the tabloids and was adopted by a plastic surgeon and his wife. As a result, she had a much better life than if she had just been dumped at an orphanage, but the emotional scars of that horrific abandonment have never healed. Joanna Strapp gives an outstanding performance. Her Kelly is nearly an open festering wound that will never heal. Her haunting enactment will stay with you for a long time after you leave the theater.
Emily’s roommate/lover Daizy is mostly written as a comic relief role. His business is similar to Emily’s in that he makes lifelike penises to specific customer measurements. Ryan Doucette has a lot of fun playing with his creations, but he also has the acting chops to get serious when the situation darkens in the play’s final third. Reborning is barely 90 minutes but it is time well spent. Don’t miss it!
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. in Hollywood. Ends March 15. 323-663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com