Lives and storylines intersect with dramatic results in Stefanie Zadravec’s “The Electric Baby,” onstage now at Burning Coal Theatre as part of its second stage series. The play takes an intensely close look at six intertwined lives. There’s Natalia (Lori Ingle Taylor), a Romanian immigrant who spends her days (and nights) tending to her desperately ill baby, and her husband, Ambimbola (Arnold Chanakira), an African immigrant who dreams of winning the lottery and drives a cab until that big day comes.
When Ambimbola swerves to miss a woman—Helen Casey (Amanda Scherle)—who has stepped out in front of his cab, his life and the lives of everyone involved changes drastically. Ambimbola is seriously injured, and one of his passengers, a stuttering young man named Dan (Ramon Perez) dies. Left behind is Dan’s friend and would-be love interest, Rozie (Lofton Riser), a part-time prostitute with a chip on her shoulder. While Rozie is left to deal with the visions of Dan that materialize in young males she encounters, Helen and her husband Reed (Michael Brocki) must come to terms with what has happened, bringing up memories of the child they lost long ago in the process.
This strange collection of intertwined stories plays out beautifully under Joshua Benjamin’s careful direction and thanks to a simple but functional set from Curt Tomczyk. In addition to the interwoven storylines that occur among the characters, Natalia and Ambimbola spin their own stories, often sprouting folklore intended to both reinforce and add new layers to the stories playing out on stage. While some of the folklore is, at times, beautiful and hard-hitting, there’s just too much of it in Zadravec’s writing, and some of the folklore has the opposite of its intended effect—causing the viewer to lose focus on the main story at hand.
Despite this flaw in the script and the play’s tendency toward the (too) bizarre, the story still manages to be intriguing and to get across its ponderings on the mysterious nature of the connections we forge, on loss and healing, and on the way we allow loss to affect us and those around us.
Performances are mostly strong throughout. Brocki is, as always, on point and wonderfully endearing in his slightly sad portrayal of Reed. Likewise, Scherle is thoroughly believable as the grief-ridden Helen, while Riser brings emotional complexity and a likeable brazen quality to her role as Rozie. Perez makes for a heart-wrenching character in his brief portrayal of Dan, and then goes on to successfully tackle two other roles. Chanakira does a decent job as Ambimbola but did have some stutters with his many lines and thick but believable accent at the opening night performance, while Taylor brings just a touch too much humor to the Natalia role and never quite seems to become the character fully.
While not a perfect play, “The Electric Baby” is an interesting and thoroughly unique one, making it worth a watch and deserving of some serious pondering long after it’s over.
Josh Benjamin Productions and Burning Coal Theatre Company present THE ELECTRIC BABY at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16-18 and 2 p.m. Jan. 19 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/eventSearch.jsp?event_id=610750.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/the-electric-baby/, http://joshuakbenjamin.wordpress.com/current-production-2/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/399975996801584/.
“WAIT TIL YOU SEE THIS!” SERIES: http://burningcoal.org/secondstage/.
Josh Benjamin Productions: http://joshuakbenjamin.wordpress.com/.
Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://burningcoal.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/burningcoaltheatrecompany.
The Electric Baby (2012 darkly comic drama): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4812 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://newdramatists.org/stefanie-zadravec/electric-baby (New Dramatists web page with excerpt).
Stefanie Zadravec (New York playwright): http://newdramatists.org/stefanie-zadravec (New Dramatists bio).
Josh Benjamin (director): https://www.facebook.com/josh.benjamin.33 (Facebook page).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.