Do you remember the Cabbage Patch kids — that ubiquitous fad of the 1980s? The “kids” were a series of dolls that came with names and birth certificates and their own individual scrunched-up faces.
Well, apparently there is a whole industry that takes that process one step further. Becoming popular at the end of the 20th century, it’s called “reborning” and its purpose is to provide dolls that are so human-looking that they are coveted, purchased and loved by collectors around the world. And by mothers, too.
In fact, if a doll-maker is talented enough she can duplicate the face of a dead infant and provide comfort to a bereaved mother.
And that’s the plot of “Reborning,” Zayd Dohrn’s drama now making its Los Angeles debut at the Fountain Theater.
Expertly directed by the Fountain’s Simon Levy, and well-acted by the three-person cast, the play, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to its initial promise. It’s uneven and draggy in spots, and even though it is billed as a comedy/drama, there isn’t much to laugh at.
Jeff McLaughlin’s set design, cluttered with vinyl baby parts, gives life to the studio of sculptress Kelly (Joanna Strapp) and her boyfriend Daizy (Ryan Doucette). Having met as students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISDE), they have set up shop together in Queens, and while she makes the dolls and paints their faces to match the photographs supplied by her clients, he makes outrageously oversized dildos for his.
Everything runs smoothly until a client named Emily (Kristin Carey) turns up to collect her “baby.” She praises Kelly’s work, but is not quite satisfied that the baby looks exactly like her dead daughter.
“There’s something about the eyes … ” she says.
And so Kelly continues to work on the doll for another week. But Emily still isn’t satisfied and Kelly becomes obsessed with getting it right.
Daizy, who seems to be the only participant who isn’t totally crazy, tries to talk Kelly out of her obsession, but by this time Kelly has convinced herself that Emily is the mother who abandoned her at birth and that the baby is actually Kelly herself.
While well-presented, the play somehow hangs unfinished. There is no discussion of the motivations or behaviors of the people who order the dolls. If they are not seeking to replace a dead baby are there other issues they’re dealing with? A need to be in control and to have complete power over another “human being?” A need to keep their grown children as perpetual infants? A need to assuage their loneliness?
While these questions are beside the point, perhaps alluding to them, or introducing an additional character or two, might serve to open up a play that otherwise feels a little one-note and somewhat claustrophobic.
“Reborning” will continue at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. (at Normandie) Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through March 15.
Call (323) 663-1525 for tickets.