The emotional ramifications when stories are woven together…that is the essential theme illuminated in playwright Stefanie Zadravec’s affecting drama, THE ELECTRIC BABY, currently running at Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, NJ.
The lives of six (…or seven or maybe eight) unassuming human beings going about their days become intertwined as the result of a terrible accident. Many of them are already touched by sadness and tragedy, and the aftermath of this accident sets in motion a series of connections between them that causes them to see their own futures in a different way.
At roughly the same time one evening in Pittsburgh, a Romanian mother (Natalia) shares wisdom and folklore as she cares for her infant son (the mysterious and never-seen “electric baby” of the title, the literal “moon” of his parent’s life who draws in everyone who sees him); an older couple (Reed and Helen) deals with their conflicting emotions after learning that their dead daughter’s husband is finding happiness in his new life; and a Nigerian cab driver (Natalia’s husband, Ambimbola) encounters two rowdy young passengers (Rozie and Dan) before the night takes a turn for the worse.
It’s difficult to flesh out this description any more concretely without giving too much away. The play is a bit of a parable, tinged with imagery and ideas (superstitions…fate, destiny, the lottery…dancing…suns and moon) and the power of storytelling, thanks in large measure to traditions and cultures represented by the Romanian and Nigerian characters.
Zadrevec’s play can be a bit too didactic at times, and a few speeches might benefit from a little editing, but director May Adrales creates a fluid and cohesive production, eliciting wonderful performances from her cast and bringing out both the humor and the drama with equal skill. The tone is equal parts magical and realistic, and Adrales’ blend works nicely. While an enacted pantomime during the play’s penultimate fable/story seems a bit heavy-handed and, at a few points, the staging and layout force a tennis match response (when attention can be focused on far opposite sides of the stage at the same time), the overall impact is thought-provoking and engaging.
The vision of the playwright and the director is clearly embodied in Mimi Lien’s scenic design. The look is a tangible representation of the “strings” that connect and tie us to one another…or a web that traps us? Either way, the set transforms from scene to scene easily and the simplicity of the design adds to the universal nature of the story: it could be anyone, anywhere. Similarly, Gina Scherr’s lighting is beautifully atmospheric when needed and clearly helps to set the varying moods.
At the heart of this production are the storytellers, the actors. Antoinette LaVecchia is pitch-perfect, delivering the right mix of warmth, humor and strength in her portrayal of Natalia. Oberon K.A. Adjepong is a delight as Ambimbola, skillfully letting us know there is a sharp “edginess” to this outwardly sunny personality. Steve Skybell (Reed) and Lizbeth Mackay (Helen) are perfectly matched as an outwardly “bland” older couple whose marriage has reached an emotional divide. He is a nervous and subservient husband keeping an even keel for a wife chilled by the loss of a child. Each finds the depths behind these facades when emotions finally break through the surface. Lucy DeVito is fiercely energetic as Rozie, yet nicely shows the harsh/bitter character’s softening as the story unfolds. The character’s “attitude” can be a tad obvious at times, but the intention is great. Finally, Nick Lehane is quietly amazing in more than one key role (and turning on a dime between them at certain points), most notably: Dan, Rozie’s friend, coworker and fellow taxi passenger; and Dave, Natalia’s neighbor who is drawn into the story by the power of the electric baby.
THE ELECTRIC BABY
by Stefanie Zadravec
Directed by May Adrales
April 6 – May 5, 2012
Two River Theater Company
21 Bridge Avenue
Red Bank, NJ