“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
~ Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”
Kickshaw Theatre has officially made its world debut with a compelling modern mythology woven together with strands of Romanian homeopathic magic, Nigerian folklore, and the legend of Anansi the spider. “The Electric Baby,” by Stefanie Zadravec, is one of the most imaginative, sweetly melancholy comedies we’ve seen in a while. It deals with big themes – destiny, love, and tragic loss – and the irresistible pull of sun, earth and moon that keeps us dancing between the stars.
In a brief curtain speech, Kickshaw Artistic Director Lynn Lammers invited audience members to indulge their curiosity and lean into the story as it unfolds. This proved prophetic, as the unorthodox nature of the play quickly pulls us into the gravity field of its compelling narrative and holds us there until the lights come back up.
The play opens as Natalia (Vanessa Sawson, in a role she was born to play) advises the audience on how to behave during the show. She is a sort of Romanian Earth-mother/goddess figure who dispenses homeopathic wisdom and tells stories to her “baby” – a glowing orb nestled in a wicker bassinette.
In short order, we meet the disparate people whose lives are about to collide, literally, in an accident that knocks their worlds into a new orbit. The cast – a dream-team of Detroit favorites – brings these flawed but sympathetic characters to life.
Helen and Reed Casey (Julia Glander and Peter Carey) are a middle-aged couple still reeling from the tragic death of their adult daughter. Helen has emotionally curled up into a fetal position and abandoned Reed to fend for himself as best he can. Reed copes. Barely, but bravely.
Rozie and Dan (Mary Dilworth and Michael Lopetrone) are friends who, after getting fired from their low-paying jobs, are laughing hysterically when they hop in a cab headed for Dan’s house. Things quickly turn south, however, and Rozie says hateful things she will live to regret.
Ambimbola (William Bryson) is a Nigerian taxi driver who dispenses calming words of wisdom and radiates tranquility. Although a poor man, Ambimbola knows it is his destiny to be a multi-millionaire, and he confidently buys lottery tickets to assist providence and, eventually, mankind. His greatest joy is that he has a son that glows like the moon.
As events unfold and the broken characters struggle to find healing, Natalia and Ambimbola relate generations of wisdom that give context to the larger journey of love and loss. In the fables and parables told to the baby, we all learn something. And because Natalia and Ambimbola are willing to share their greatest treasure, the others are able to find their way through the pain to each other. We cannot rid ourselves of pain, but we can help bind each other’s’ wounds.
There is much in this play to contemplate – much to laugh about – and much that makes us want to be better people. Go see it. Bring a friend. And share the word that Kickshaw Theatre and this amazing company are ready to grab your imaginations and not let go.
The production runs through February 21, 2016, and is staged at the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, located at 704 Airport Boulevard, in Ann Arbor. Tickets are on sale at the Kickshaw website and from Brown Paper Tickets by phone at 1- 800-838-3006. Ticket prices range from $20-$28 with $12 student tickets for all performances. There are a variety of evening and matinee performances; a complete schedule is available here.
For this production, Kickshaw is partnering with various community organizations for whom the play resonates, including the Kite Network, the Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild, and Lamaze Family Center Ann Arbor. Community partnerships are part of Kickshaw’s mission of Connectivity, which is based on reciprocal relationships with community groups, businesses and non-profit organizations.