Stefanie Zadravec’s 2012 script, “The Electric Baby,” is about loss, grief and new beginnings, couched in a demanding blend of grim reality and poetic lyricism. Josh Benjamin Productions’ staging at Burning Coal Theatre confidently allows the play to intrigue and affect its audience.
The script follows three couples: Romanian-born Natalia and African immigrant Ambimbola, mature suburbanites Helen and Reed, and young restaurant workers Rozie and Dan. Their lives entwine after Ambimbola’s taxi, with Rozie and Dan inside, swerves to miss Helen, who has rushed into the street after arguing with Reed. The taxi crashes, killing Dan, roughing up Reed and gravely injuring Ambimbola.
Interaction at the hospital brings out various revelations. Helen shut out Reed after their daughter died, sending Reed into the arms of “Brenda,” Rozie’s name at an escort service. Rozie’s hard shell had frustrated Dan, who was shyly in love with her. Natalia and Ambimbola’s American dream was crushed by poverty and having a child with a fatal disease, keeping the youngster hooked up to wires and tubes.
Zadravec overlays her realistic drama with myth and folklore, spun out atmospherically by Natalia and Ambimbola to explain their circumstances and comfort others. This makes for some enigmatic and even distracting passages, the ambitious but overemployed effect weighing down an otherwise straightforward, moving storyline.
Director Joshua Benjamin keeps the production firmly centered in reality, resisting the urge to play up the script’s fantastical elements, aided by Curt Tomczyk’s pleasing set pieces of hospital room, street corner and taxicab.
Lori Ingle Taylor’s Natalia has emotional warmth and quiet humor, although she is rather laid back for what the part seems to demand. Arnold Chanakira’s charismatic Ambimbola is cheekily funny, but his accent is often too strong for clarity in important lines. Michael Brocki’s Reed is suitably frustrated and at sea, while Amanda Scherle gives Helen believable bitterness and eventual understanding.
Lofton Riser plays Rozie’s edginess with fierce intensity, while nicely indicating her underlying need for love. Ramon Perez impresses as three separate characters (Dan, a nurse and Natalia’s neighbor), each skillfully differentiated.
This 100-minute one-act can be recommended to adventurous theatergoers for Zadravec’s insightful observations about human reactions to the loss of loved ones.