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A Thought-Provoking Production

On paper, the premise of Reborning is eerie enough. Kelly, a slightly jaded young artist who creates custom order dolls (reborns) for a living, begins to suspect that a new client is her long-lost birth mother, and that the infant doll she’s making is a talisman in her own image. As the newcomer takes an increasing interest in her life, Kelly loses herself further in the project and begins to question her own sanity.

With only three actors on the playbill and one minor set change, there isn’t much to distract from the rising tension and increasingly unsettling meetings between Lauren English’s Kelly and the refined, yet strangely maternal Emily (Lorri Holt). Alexander Alioto rounds out the cast as Kelly’s well-meaning art school dropout boyfriend, Daizy (his parents were hippies), a sex toy maker by trade. Though small, the cast is more than robust enough to buoy the 75-minute performance.

And though it’s billed as a dark comedy, Reborning boasts a solid mix of drama and levity, as Dohrn’s script leaves enough breathing room for Alioto’s moments of comic relief — not to mention the requisite Chucky jokes and an appearance by a 12-inch rubber phallus.

Scene shifts are marked by a darkened stage, flickering close-up images of Kelly’s reborn creations projected onto a screen, and a downtempo, pulsing drum and synth soundtrack that conveys a growing unrest.

The SF Playhouse is a perfect venue for this piece; the limited capacity means every seat is like a seat in Kelly and Daizy’s house. The script makes good use of auditory cues, and it’s easy to develop a Pavlovian response to the sound of the doorbell and approaching elevator signaling Emily’s increasingly frequent visits.

Reborning could easily have gone the is-she-crazy-or-isnt-she path, leading the audience down the proverbial rabbit hole. Fortunately, the story ends up more concerned with fears of inadequacy, the unique trials of motherhood, and the catharsis of dealing with life through art and creation, rather than repeatedly playing the creepy card.

Aside from the well-crafted sense of atmosphere, the intricacy of the characters’ relationships is what drives this one home — whether the growing rift between Daizy and Kelly as he worries her obsession with her reborns will prevent them from starting a real family, or Emily’s seeming attempts to foster a mother-daughter relationship with Kelly.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving it all away, but if you’re in the mood for a thought-provoker this is a good place to start.

San Francisco Playhouse
Now through June 11th