Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Dazzling and Original The Electric Baby by Stefanie Zadravec
The Electric Baby is a richly theatrical new play that makes its own rules. It is receiving a richly imaginative, impressively expansive production in Two River's small black box "second stage" Marion Huber Theatre.
The high and wide stage setting is a dark open area which is crisscrossed ceiling to floor with ropes hung at a multiplicity of angles, some of which sharply change angle along their course. Hanging from ropes and scattered about mid-air are common household furnishings, such as a stove, a bed and a table. Hanging at an angle is a taxicab roof light, and a little ways below it there is a seemingly free-standing image of the back window of a taxi cab which is likely a projection on a transparent black scrim. The back and sides of the area are surrounded by vast, loosely hung black curtains. The setting resembles a massive circus tent. Perhaps director (May Adrales) and set designer(Mimi Lien) had a city or even the universe in mind. However, what matters is that the ambitious scenic production lends appropriate size to a play in which the themes have large scope. Additionally, the design is conducive to a coup de théâtre at the play's climax that will not be revealed here.
The setting is present day Pittsburgh. Natalia (Antoinette LaVecchia) cares for her delicate, desperately ill baby. Her baby is a beautiful creature who magically glows with electricity. Natalia talks directly to the audience, admonishing coughers and other misbehavers, and dispensing advice on the use of folk remedies from her homeland Romania. She tells the baby Romanian folk tales, myths.
In short order, we meet Helen Casey (Lizbeth Mackay) and Reed Casey (Steven Skybell), an unhappy couple in late middle age, as they are picking up their car after a painful visit to a city apartment. Next we enter the taxicab of Ambimbola (Oberon K. A. Adjepong), a bubbly Nigerian who supplements his income by selling lottery tickets. Two young people enter the cab together: Rozie (Lucy DeVito), a troubled, foul mouthed kid who prostitutes and waitresses to get by, and Dan (Nick Lehane), a rather nice guy who is infatuated with her. An auto accident is about to occur which will bring its survivors, Natalia and The Electric Baby together, affecting the trajectory of their lives. Dan will not long survive the accident, but Rozie will soon connect with two other young men, Don and Dave (both also played by Nick Lehane).
Ambimbola, similarly to Natalia, is given to reciting, likely reinventing, folkloric myths. Naturally, his myths are African based. The Electric Baby itself is a fable that primarily celebrates myths and their importance to society and the human psyche. It extends its reach by positioning a modern day urban myth as a key element.
Zadravec unfolds her story over twenty short scenes which repeatedly take us back and forth among these protagonists over the course of the hour and forty minute length of this one act play. She takes the greater part of the play's length to reveal all of the interrelationships. By all rights, this format should have resulted in a overly fragmented and annoyingly contrived play. However, Zadravec has the uncanny skill to make each scene play naturally without any real sense of calculation or contrivance.
The entire cast forms a harmonious ensemble with each creating a strong archetype. Oberon K. A. Adjepong is engaging and larger than life as the embodiment of an a Nigerian mythologist. Antoinette LaVecchia is humorously morose as his Romanian equivalent. Lucy DeVito is convincing and sympathetic as the disturbed, alienated young woman. Steven Skybell and Lizbeth Mackay project the sadness and anger of a couple whose sorrows have destroyed their relationship. Nick Lehane portrays three nice young men in need of motivation. As the glowing baby and foreign born mythologists touch the others, their portrayers nicely calibrate the changes which develop in each.
Director May Adrales has added size to what has heretofore been regarded as an intimate, delicate play without doing any harm to the tender beauty of Zadravec's creation. In fact, given the size and scope of Zadravec's subject, Adrales' staging is a perfect fit for it. The strong impact of her production in a small capacity theatre is exhilarating.
Stefanie Zadravec has said that she is "excited by plays that really use the medium of theater, pushing the bounds of realism through language or the physical elements of storytelling." The Electric Baby is a very sure-handed and richly entertaining play that does just that. Thus, Zadravec should be very pleased with The Electric Baby. I know that I am. Happily, it is receiving a production at Two River that so effectively showcases it.
The Electric Baby continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday 7 PM; Thursday - Saturday 8 PM/ Matinees.: Wednesday 1 PM; Saturday & Sunday 3 PM) through May 5, 2013 at the Two River Theatre Company, Marion Huber Theatre, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank 07701; Box Office: 732-345-1400 / online: www.trtc.org.
The Electric Baby by Stefanie Zadravec; directed by May Adrales