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The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble| Theater review

The magical realism elements in Stefanie Zadravec's play are at odds with the human-level story.

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
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Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Kathy Logelin and Jeff Trainor in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
2/6
Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Lionel Gentle and Amanda Powell in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
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Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

HB Ward and Meighan Gerachis in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
4/6
Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

HB Ward, Jeff Trainor and Amanda Powell in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
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Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Meighan Gerachis and Amanda Powell in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 (Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux)
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Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Lionel Gentle in The Electric Baby at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

 

Babies have an almost superhuman power to enthrall whoever lays eyes on them. There’s a reason Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram feeds are flooded with baby pictures, and Stefanie Zadravec’s 2012 play takes the idea of the magical newborn to new heights with the glowing infant at the center of her play. Three months old and sick with a mysterious illness, the electric baby has the ability to calm anyone who looks at it. Such magical realist elements get in the way of Zadravec’s down-to-Earth personal drama, which is far more poignant when the playwright focuses on the real rather than the magical.  

Helen (Meighan Gerachis) and Reed (an excellent H.B. Ward) are parents grieving the loss of their daughter from a freak brain aneurysm when they find themselves pulled into the titular baby’s orbit. Helen causes a taxi to crash into a lamppost when she runs out into the street after a fight, and she finds herself wracked with guilt after one of the cab passengers dies. Cab driver Ambimbola (Lionel Gentle) is the father of the luminescent infant, and Helen tries to replace her dead daughter with the injured man while her husband does the same with prostitute Rozie (Amanda Powell), who was also in the vehicle. Because this is one of those “everyone is connected” plays, Reed and the prostitute also have a convenient history together.

When Zadravec writes two characters in a realistic setting having an ordinary conversation, the emotion of her story comes through much more naturally than when she tries to force it via fanciful monologues. Ambimbola communicates with his wife, Natalia (Kathy Logelin), through “lunar cycles,” and their relationship would read more clearly if they actually interacted instead of delivering speeches in the other’s direction. The terrifying hallucinations Rozie sees are a physical manifestation of the fear and loss she’s feeling after her friend’s death, but her story's far more poignant when she’s having a simple conversation about how the deceased man made her feel.

Director Tara Mallen has assembled a talented cast of actors able to make strong connections with each other when the script and staging don’t interfere. Mallen’s odd staging puts simultaneous actions on opposite sides of the set, and there are multiple instances where lines will be missed if the audience doesn’t move their heads fast enough. That empty space between actors on stage runs parallel to the disconnect in the script, which too often sacrifices human emotion for theatrical artifice. 

 

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