REVIEW: THE ELECTRIC BABY at The Arvada Center
by Devon James
Storytelling is the most ancient form of theatre. From the time man walked the Earth, they would tell the stories of their adventures by campfire. As we evolved, so did our stories and the infusion of belief systems & mythology.
If you’re in the mood for a contemporary folklore piece, then make your way down to the Arvada Center’s production of THE ELECTRIC BABY. Playwright Stefanie Zadravec has married the ancient storytelling with a vibe of new age philosophies in this beautiful piece that intertwines the lives of 3 separate couples dealing with loss. Just before I arrived at the theatre, I had been listening to a professional spiritual healer talking about how “we are all infinite beings of love and light,” and “We are all connected; we are all moved by the phases of the moon-ebbing and flowing with its gravitational pull.” Stories also bind us with the common thread that crochets our human makeup. Zadravec certainly seems to be one with this belief, or at least this is the takeaway for me from this piece.
Scenic Designer, Brian Mallgrave gives us the symbolism of these threads around the bassinet and the connected energy that is the baby. Shannon McKinney’s lighting design is soft and haunting, and separates an otherwise open playing space. Jason Ducat’s sound design is intrinsic and elevating. And Costume Designer, Meghan Anderson Doyle always finds ways to add hidden meaning to her work, and her designs will often tell a story within themselves. You’ll most obviously catch it within the character of “Helen” (Kate Gleason) and how the layers of her wardrobe reflect the layers Gleason cautiously and protectively unveils throughout.
The structure of the play is a bit challenging to execute, but Director Rick Barbour pulls together a tightly woven production. There are quick transitions, dialects, and relationships that have very little time to develop and settle within both the actor and audience perspective. With all that is to take in, on top of the unconventional nature, I can see how audiences may walk away wondering how they felt about it or if they had a chance to feel at all (at first). This one takes some marinating time, and what you gained may creep up on you once you’ve had the space to reflect.
Jessica Robblee (“Natalia”) & Abner Genece (“Ambimbola”) have their hands full with the challenges of their dialect work, and the circumstance of their relationship being solely filtered through their bond to the moon, their baby, their stories, and through the characters they come in contact with. But the work is impressive, and brings much of the humor we experience. As a whole, I felt disconnected from the relationships and the depth of where we were asked to go emotionally. There’s so much to be stripped away, but I wonder if the script allows the time for this development or if the Direction/Set design involved too much motion for the necessary stillness deeper moments can need to fully realize. Like the crash the play revolves around, there is a collision of circumstance and a multitude of discoveries. It would be a scene study dream, but from the moment the lights go up, we barrel through a “Pandora’s Box” of information. What’s wonderful is that each of the Actors feel as though these characters were written to lend space for their individual gifts. They live in the flesh as if these roles were written for them to play, and I would expect that in the coming weeks they will sit a bit deeper into them.
For me, this is a worthwhile piece to be seen and experienced. It will make you think, laugh, feel, and stretch your realm of theatre. As a bonus, you will get to walk the halls of the incredible art installation within the Center, and have a quick 140 minute and engaging experience with some of this year’s Black Box Artists. And at the root, we can walk away knowing that we are one of the same, and impact others through the light we radiate from our beings. At our brightest, we can move mountains and in turn change the World.
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is enthralling audiences with THE ELECTRIC BABY, running in repertory with Sense and Sensibility and All My Sons, performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinées on Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., through May 4, 2018. Audience talkbacks will be held Friday, March 9 and Wednesday, March 28. Chats with the cast are held before every performance, and actors are available for informal discussions afterward as well. Please check the website for specific performance days. To purchase tickets go to http://arvadacenter.org/the-electric-baby or call 720-898-7200.
Please note – The Electric Baby is performed without an intermission.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Gale Photography 2018