june 2018 | Volume 168
Reborning is a verb referring to the creation of life-like dolls in the image of dead children. In Zayd Dohrn’s play of that title, Kelly (Emily Bett Rickards) has developed a successful business in New York constructing reborn dolls. She lives with her fellow art school grad boyfriend Daizy (Paul Piaskowski), whose equally bizarre profession is making and marketing latex dildos.
Daizy finds Kelly’s work (but not his own) “a little disgusting, sick and exploitative,” and wants them to have a real baby. Kelly resists for reasons we’ll discover later, meanwhile smoking pot, gulping booze and pills while working obsessively on her dolls. As we see their eyes magnified and projected in large size on a screen, they do seem creepy. Daizy jokingly refers to Chucky and Rosemary’s baby. The play will eventually morph into something like a horror movie.
Middle-aged Emily (Lori Triolo) has commissioned Kelly to make a reborn doll in the image of the daughter she lost twenty years earlier. She likes what Kelly has done but asks for slightly more refinement; she needs the resemblance to be exact. She’ll come back a second and third time asking for revision, sharper detail, more life-likeness.
At first we think Emily is slightly warped, abnormally fixated on this weird surrogation. But we soon see that she’s relatively rational. Turns out to be Kelly who is most severely damaged, continually reliving the trauma of having been terribly, violently abandoned as an infant by her mother. Kelly gradually becomes attached to Emily’s doll, identifies herself with it and develops the idea that Emily is the mother who abandoned her.
The psychology of the play at that point becomes a little too on-the-nose. There’s also a jump-the-shark moment when Daizy insists that Emily prove she didn’t actually kill her own daughter. But there’s plenty of power in the stories of mothers who have lost their children, and the pull of those children from the grave even after decades. Ditto for the devastation of the child, Kelly, who has lost her mother.
The great strength of this production is its acting. Rickards gives us a painfully powerful Kelly, trapped in the trauma of her infancy and moved by forces she can’t possibly control. Her physical and emotional descent into madness is impressive. Triolo, a fine actress who also directs this Reality Curve Theatre production, infuses every speech and gesture of Emily’s with telling detail. Although the character of Daizy doesn’t seem consistently credible to me, Piaskowski makes him quirkily likable and funny.
Some of the company’s promotional material proposes this play as therapeutic, offering potential assistance for grieving and healing. I see it more in the vein of other naturalistic New York plays that present a dark slice of damaged life, a view through a keyhole into a room you hope you’ll never have to occupy.
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews