By Paige Allen
August 27, 2019
Trauma is a tricky thing. It can rise up at times and in ways we least expect. Reborning explores how distressing experiences can leave scars on our bodies, hearts, and minds; how we can discover the depth of those wounds even years later; and how we cope with pain and its memory.
In a tightly wound three-person play, Zayd Dohrn applies these ideas to the practice of creating Reborn dolls, baby dolls made to look as lifelike as possible. In Reborning, playing at Soho Playhouse, Kelly (Emily Bett Rickards) is an artist who specializes in the making of these dolls. Many of her clients include grieving parents such as Emily (Lori Triolo), a mother seeking a new way to cope with the loss of her daughter.
As the women develop a relationship, it soon becomes clear that Emily isn’t the only one with unresolved pain in her past. Kelly was physically mutilated and abandoned in a dumpster when she was an infant. Haunted by her personal history and struggling with mental illness, Kelly spirals as the truth conjured in her mind becomes stronger than the reality around her.
Between these two pained women is Daizy (Paul Piaskowski), Kelly’s boyfriend and roommate. Kelly angrily accuses Daizy of being undamaged, of never having had a crazy moment in his life. Although positioned as the level head and the comic relief, Daizy does not lack his own quirks. After all, while Kelly makes a living crafting realistic dolls, Daizy works sculpting lifelike genitalia in the next room and eventually reveals his own flawed history with dolls.
While not perfect by any means, Daizy provides an example of how to relate to those living with mental illnesses like PTSD and OCD. Daizy shows patience and understanding at many times when others might have given up.
Peter Triolo’s detailed scenic design creates the flat in which the play takes place — part living room, part artist’s studio. Aaron Porter’s lighting design mostly sits in realism but strategically uses color to create unsettling effects.
One of the most exciting technical elements is the flat screen television on which we see the feed of a live camera at Kelly’s desk, allowing Kelly (and the audience) to view the details of her artistic work on a larger scale. If the scaled up features of a baby doll aren’t creepy enough, this camera feed to the tv creates the play’s most chilling moment, when the reality in Kelly’s head becomes visible to us all and reads like a horror movie.
Another strong design element is the music, sound designed by Matthias Falvai and provided by the band Bunny Punch. The rock-infused, female-voiced music is the perfect soundtrack to Kelly’s obsessive and frenzied work sessions.
In addition to playing Emily, Lori directed Reborning with a careful hand. The three characters feel like real people going about their lives. This quiet but powerful direction creates the production’s seamless quality.
By the end of the play, the three characters form a family of sorts, encouraging us to consider how shared traumas can bring people together. Although the play does not provide a clear ending, it does offer some hope that if we cannot move past our pain, we can at least move with it.
BCS-friendliness rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I only paid $25 for my ticket to Reborning (plus $4.75 in fees) as part of a special night for audience members under twenty-five years old. Standard tickets were more, $49 if I remember correctly.
SoHo Playhouse is a small space and the seats are general admission, so you can decide how close or far you want to be from the actors, but there are no bad seats in the house.