Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Theatre review: "The Electric Baby" for Sunday 8th April 2012

Quantum Theatre world premieres The Electric Baby a remarkable, eloquent work of imagination by Stefanie Zadravec. It glows, especially due to a luminous performance by Robin Abramson.

Directing this CMU grad and former City Theatre Associate Producing Director Daniella Topol makes its vivid, moving the beautiful moments with grace and all of it with meaning.

Evidently Zadravec has based it on real events of her own life, events taking place in Pittsburgh. But this is no simple narrative, nor an elemental documentary. Rather she has taken her subject into unexpected realms encompassing legends, folk wisdom, a ghost and accidental interconnections permutating in unforeseen ways.

This coalesces around a baby with a rare, perilous and unexplained physical condition. His mother, Natalia, is Romanian-born. His father, Ambimbola, is from Nigeria. Both come from roots where magic, fable and mystery combine. Driving an unlicensed cab, Ambimbola picks up part-time hooker, Rozie and her long-time pal Dan. The cab nearly kills Helen Casey who has become increasingly emotionally distant from her husband Reed after the death of their daughter. Then a new death enters into the equation even while the Reed marriage itself appears to be dying.

These, of course, are the bones of the story but Zadravec fleshes it out to make it more than story-telling, as if a fable itself. Therein lies the beauty, amazingly so, since the Reeds are suffering and Rozie suffers for a while. But soulful Natalia and Ambimbola remain suffused with serenity.

Abramson as Natalia charms and cheers every scene she plays. And Monteze Freeland’s performance of Ambimbola equals that warmth. Laurie Klatscher and John Shepard interpret Helen and Reed with compelling truth. They perfectly interpret Zadravec’s portrayal of the characters’ vulnerability and confusion.

Director Topol has found remarkable ways to move her performers within Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s inventive stage adaptation of a small room in a Victorian house which is part of The Waldorf School. Sometimes, perceptively, Topol casts Helen, Reed and Rozie into the shadows, as if they are in the dark about themselves. Sometimes she has them shine in the light of the moon as if finding their way, lit by Natalia and Ambimbola’s clarity of mind.

One scene goes on too long, when Natalia does not leave the side of her baby while Ambimbola, unable to move from his bed, tells a long story of how they met. Topol does what she can to compensate by having actors Ruth Gamble and Nick Lehane dance a pantomimic version of that story. This needs to be trimmed or re-staged perhaps using Abramson and Freeland acting it out. This is, after all, a new play,

As for where the performance takes place, it seems appropriate that it is produced in collaboration with not only the school but also Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Children’s Hospital Foundation. You could leave comforted, recognizing that healing is possible even as you become aware that, as the day wanes, unresolved questions wait around the corner.

The Electric Baby continues through April 22nd at The Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, 201 South Winebiddle Street in in Bloomfield/Friendship. Tickets at ShowClix 1-888-71-TICKETS (1-888 718 4253) and

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