Reborning, LA
Joanna Strapp in a scene from "Reborning"
© The Fountain Theatre. Photo by Ed Krieger

Reborning, LA

A creepy premise, a great cast, and deft direction cannot redeem this drama from its own shortfalls.

By Zayd Dohrn

Directed by Simon Levy

With Kristin Carey, Ryan Doucette, and Joanna Strapp

The Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles

Jan. 21 – March 15, 2015

"Reborning." The meaning is as crazy as it sounds. Reborning is the act of creating an individual infant doll in the precise image of a child whom a parent has lost. People (mostly women) pay mucho dinero for these creepy idols, then often fawn over them as though they were alive. Others collect them and sell them on eBay. When I was first invited to cover "Reborning" I thought, "This is one I'll pass up, even though the Fountain usually has very interesting stuff." Then I heard some positive reactions, and I thought again how the Fountain generally has excellent productions, so I decided to give it a try.

No question about it, the acting is excellent, Jeff McLaughlin's re-creation of an artist's apartment/studio is spot on, and director Simon Levy maintains a brisk pace for this comedy-descending-into-disaster play. So what is the problem? Notice, I did not mention Zayd Dohrn's script. Not that the dialogue is not tight, nor that the humor is not funny or the tragedy not tragic. No, he got all of those elements right. It is that he packs it all into 70 minutes. Most scripts need editing, "Reborning" could use some breathing space for character development and fleshing-out of the story arc.

Kelly (Joanna Strapp) is a 20-something artist who has developed an Internet reputation as a creator of these strange dolls. Women send her emails with photos of the infants. Guzzling booze and smoking a joint, but with surgical precision and surgical tools, she delivers the likenesses. Her live-in boyfriend and fellow RISD alum, Daizy (Ryan Doucette), is making his fame and fortune sculpting monumental penises based on photos and self-aggrandizing measurements proffered by his clients. It apparently pays for more than just rent, even if these endeavors lack the artistic ├ęclat they probably sought in school.

Emily (Kristin Carey) is Kelly's current client. Unannounced and breaking the email boundary, she shows up at Kelly's door. Emily is obsessed with perfection from her coiffure to her designer shoes. Hyper-controlling, she makes demands on Kelly to slightly alter the skin tone, adjust something in the eye. As she nitpicks her way through her examination of the doll she insists upon giving Kelly … TMI. Much too much TMI. She shows up week after week trying to get closer to Kelly. Kelly is not a sweet young thing who happened upon this strange profession. She is damaged goods: as an infant she was abandoned in a dumpster, stabbed, fingerprints obliterated by bleach. She was adopted by a plastic surgeon and his wife. Repaired on the outside, she is a festering wound on the brink of rupture. She becomes convinced Emily is the mother who has abandoned her and that the child she is sculpting is herself.

Where is Daizy in all this? (Please don't ask why a guy is called Daizy.) He breezes in and out, mostly looking for sex. Basically he is a randy guy with a raunchy, but kind of sweet, sense of humor, and a rescue fantasy who has bitten off more than an experienced shrink would want to chew. Kelly decompensates big time and the audience is left gasping WHOA.

Too bad. Creepy premises are not a bad point of departure for drama. If you do not believe the reborning thing is real, there is even an ad for one of these artists in the program. With perfectly cast actors in a meticulous production like this, the story could add up to a great evening in the theater. Instead "Reborning" struck me as falling short. It feels like it has been trimmed to fit the needs of a TV drama.

Karen Weinstein

Los Angeles ,

Weinstein is a clinical psychologist who teaches in the medical school at UCLA. She also holds a master’s degree in Urban Studies and has a strong interest in history and architecture, as well as the theater.