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Wel. . .I'm better, actually, on the pore level, Emily, you know — whole people confuse me. — Kelly
Emily Bett Rickards (Photo by Shimon Karmel)
Reborning is a family affair. Director Lori Triolo, who also acts in Zayd Dohrn's three-person play (first seen at the Public Theater's summer festival in 2009), has brought her mom and dad along for the ride: Joe-Marie Triolo's the art director and Peter Triolo designed the meticulously detailed set, featuring a convincing suggestion of a cage elevator.

Meanwhile, it's hard not to project Dohrn's own parents on to his work. He's the son of Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, and he's spoken about the impact of his early years (hiding with an alias, mom's incarceration) on his storytelling. So it's no surprise that the familial deck's been stacked against Reborning's unsettled Kelly (Emily Bett Rickards, of television's Arrow). Left for dead in a dumpster with stab wounds and her fingertips burned off to prevent identification, she's grown up haunted by the horror of a trauma she was too young to remember.

Heroin, pills, and alcohol haven't helped, but it seems like crafting lifelike baby dolls for a needy clientele, a process known as reborning, just might. That is, until Emily (Triolo) shows up, her professional efficiency and her pantsuit clashing with Kelly's messy, pot-scented studio. Emily's desire for a doll to replace a lost-long child throws Kelly for a loop, tipping the reborner's longing for a surrogate mother (and maybe a surrogate daughter, too) towards obsession.

Dohrn's central metaphor is hardly meant to be psychologically subtle — the script oozes with references to Freud — but the dolls ultimately do start to weigh this play down. As the characters slowly work their way towards recognizing that a baby doll can't replace the genuine article, Reborning starts spinning its wheels. There's a creepy veneer, occasionally, especially in one startling visual moment, but Reborning seldom surprises.

The writing sometimes sparks but rarely in its angsty scenes of doll craftsmanship as Emily and Kelly argue whether baby Eva captures the living essence of her namesake. There's more winning vitality in Dohrn's slightly naughty humor, especially the wryly awkward opening exchanges between Emily and Daizy (Paul Piaskowski), Kelly's live-in boyfriend.

In one of Reborning's more inspired comic touches, Daizy shares many of his girlfriend's artistic skills, but his lifelike sculpting is for the "adult latex and rubber" industry. He's wearing one of his products when he meets an understandably shocked Emily. (In a less inspired move, Daizy spends most of his time onstage pressuring Kelly to end their sexual dry spell.)

Though Rickards' limber performance balances Kelly's caustic wit and ever-encroaching despair, Dohrn lets his protagonist's self-description as a "basket case" explain away her abrupt character development. That feels a bit like a cop-out. Kelly's sudden spiraling catapults the play towards familiar melodrama and away from the specific idiosyncrasies of the earliest scenes.

Still,thanks in large part to Triolo's grief-washed portrayal of Emily, the horrifying enormity of caring for an infant makes a lasting impression here. Reborning seems to whisper through its anxious final scenes that, sometimes, there can be disarming comfort in the vinyl skin and acryllic eyes of a doll that will stay forever young. g.

Other Dohrn plays reviewd at Curtainup
Outside People Sick - NJ
Sick - Berkshires
kThe Profane

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Reborning by Zayd Dohrn
Directed by Lori Triolo
Cast: Emily Bett Rickards, Paul Piaskowski, and Lori Triolo
Set Designer: Peter Triolo
Lighting Designer: Aaron Porter
Sound Designer: Matthias Falvai
Art Designer: Jo-Marie Triolo
Music: Bunny Punch
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street
From 7/5/19; opening 7/12/19; closing 8/3/19
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8:00; Sundays, 7:00
Reviewed by Dan Rubins at 7/7 performance

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