Modern psychology dictates five stages through which one passes coping with grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many people are neither so neat nor as lucky.
Kelly (Emily Bett Rickards) is the proprietor of Little Angels Nursery. The thirty-something artist makes lifelike baby dolls based on photos of real children. One recent commission is intended to remind an adult who he was on the occasion of a birthday, others go into collections, some are meant to console for actual loss.
The contrast between what seems a sympathetic profession and its often drunk, stoned, punk-looking purveyor is startling. Even with a rather unique handicap, however, Kelly is meticulous about her craft. She shares her home/work space and, intriguingly, related skills, with boyfriend Daizy (Paul Piaskowski) who creates detailed silicone models of men’s penises.
Though finding her field serendipitously, Kelly has a calling, while sweet- natured partner Paul is merely bemused by his business. He sees marriage and a family in their future. For unsettling reasons we learn later, she’s adamantly against having children.
We meet when Kelly’s upper middle class, businesswoman client Emily (Lori Triolo) appears to check on progress of baby Eva. In awe of the artist’s skill, Emily is nonetheless exacting in her demands. The infant is declared too perfect. “I guess some people want them more Gerbery (as in Gerber baby food), I want her to be more realistic, nothing fancy or cleaned up.” (Though we never get a full close up of the doll, her only obvious flaw is too much hair.)
Emily has brought along a video tape…as source of inspiration. Though she’s told images will be too grainy to be useful, Kelly accepts it to be kind. The tape suggests baby Eva died some twenty years ago, yet her surviving mother is raw.
Visits and requests unusually continue. Emily shows up with baby booties and a birth certificate. Kelly is attentive, while increasingly frustrated and determined. The women grow oddly closer. Her client is about the age Kelly’s mother would’ve been.
Suddenly there’s a shift. The doll’s importance skyrockets. Emily is shut out. Other commissions languish as Kelly becomes seriously obsessed. Daizy is understandably concerned.
Despite the director’s note, a few lighter moments, and the rubber penis, this is not a comedy. Zayd Dohrn has written about trauma and healing with insight and skill. Setting the piece in circumstances as original (if partly less plausible) as they are contemporary makes the play both more interesting and less pompous. Trajectory is sure but not predictable. A single moment of was-it-or-wasn’t-it fantasy works wonderfully.
Emily Bett Rickards’s Kelly is the axis around which the piece turns. In turn, it’s the actress’s solid core which keeps her credible without revealing secrets before their time. There’s perversity in the heroine’s patience, fever in her precision, vulnerability in anger, truth in isolation. Spinning out is palpable.
As Daizy, Paul Piaskowski aptly embodies no-matter-what affection packaged in a loosey goosey RISD grad who deserves someone less tragically wounded. The contrast mostly works.
Actress/Director Lori Triolo is here a better director. Her Emily doesn’t seem sufficiently invested in the commission she hopes will still decades of pain. Focus goes in and out. A later conversation with Daizy finds her curiously distracted.
Otherwise direction is effective. The way characters relate to dolls is specific and believable. Physicality between Kelly and Daizy is deft; his giant bowl of cereal a perfect reflection of the character. A screen is adroitly used to share the video clip as well as Kelly’s intermittent surgery. Coming and going is never without motivation. Pacing is excellent.
Even with Kelly’s bizarre, stretch-of-the-imagination, physical disadvantage, the play is effective and intriguing.
Peter Triolo’s scenic design can’t quite decide whether this is a modern loft or a railroad apartment on Avenue B. The area where Kelly works, is, however well equipped, said penis, nifty.
Music Supervisor Heather Smith and Music-Bunny Punch use fitting material.
Photos by Russ Rowland
Opening: Emily Bett Rickards
Reborning by Zayd Doyd Dohrn
Directed by Lori Triolo
15 Vandam Street
Through August 3, 2019