By Marty Clear , Entertainment Columnist Thursday, June 18, 2015
Zayd Dohrn's play "Reborning" is often called a comedy-drama. It would be hard for anyone who sees the current production from Sarasota's Urbanite Theatre to call it that.
There are a few scattered chuckles along the way, but the dramatic element are so effective that it's difficult to recall any light moments. "Reborning" is intense, harsh, even devastating. Comedic it is not.
The title refers, at least on the literal level, to a kind of hyper-realistic doll making, in which dolls are made to look almost creepily lifelike. It's an actual practice, and there are adults walking among us who push their reborn dolls around in strollers.
Kelly is a young bohemian New Yorker who's one of the best reborn doll artists in the business. She obsesses over the tiniest details to make her dolls look lifelike.
She strikes up a personal relationship with a demanding customer named Emily, who has commissioned Kelly to create a replica of her daughter, whom she lost decades before.
Their relationship becomes a catalyst for cataclysmic psychological revelations for Kelly. The play is so densely plotted that it's difficult to describe the story in any detail without revealing too much. Dohrn offers shocks and surprises every few minutes; a moment that seems climactic turns out to be a set up for an even more climactic scene.
The Urbanite space -- much smaller than anything that Sarasota audiences are used to, with only about 50 seats for this production -- suits the material perfectly. Even in the worst seats in the house, the audience is only feet away from the actors. The audience physically experiences the intensity in a way that wouldn't be possible in a proscenium theater.
The production, directed by Brendon Fox, is harrowing, highlighted by a quietly intense performance by Natalie Symons as Emily and a dynamic and emotionally wide-ranging one by Megan Rippey as Kelly.
Brendan Ragan as Daizy, Kelly's slacker boyfriend, isn't as convincing as the other two during the expository sequences early in the play, but he comes to life in the more substantial scenes, when it counts the most.
It all plays out on an earthy set, the apartment/workplace that Kelly and Daizy share, created by Rick Cannon. The set is realistic except for a video screen on which the audience can view details of the doll-making and other especially intimate moments. It's an odd dramatic device, and there are moments when it's distracting, but overall it works.
"Reborning" is a compact play, only about 75 minutes and presented here without intermission. It feels longer, but in the best possible way: When the play is over and you check the time, you can scarcely believe that you've experienced such a range of intense emotions in such a short time.