The timing couldn’t have been better. The folks at San Francisco Playhouse may not have planned it that way, but giving “Reborning” its world premiere on the eve of Mother’s Day seemed to add an extra layer of resonance to Zayd Dohrn’s compelling dark comedy.
Not that Dohrn’s play needs shoring up. In Josh Costello’s tightly staged 80-minute production, the show delves into a fascinating range of issues from procreation and genetic inheritance to inspiration, madness and the uses of art.
Still, motherhood is central to “Reborning,” which takes place in the home studio of Kelly (Lauren English) and Daizy (Alexander Alioto). Both are sculptors specializing in latex art, but they couldn’t be more different in their approach.
Kelly crafts lifelike dolls, mostly for grieving mothers seeking realistic mementos of deceased children. Daizy, who works in the next room, makes more mundane — but equally lifelike — body parts of the kind used in adult films.
They’re in love, but Dohrn contrasts their characters — and their attitudes about work — in the first scene, as Emily (Lorri Holt), who has ordered a baby doll from Kelly, arrives to see the results.
The doll, named Eva after Emily’s late daughter, is amazingly lifelike, but Emily says it’s not quite right — and Kelly, a perfectionist, vows to keep working until Emily’s satisfied.
Daizy, who thinks she’s spent enough time on the project —besides, he’d rather relax and make a real baby with Kelly — urges her to wrap it up and cut little Eva loose.
In successive scenes, though, Kelly grows increasingly obsessed with the doll, working around the clock to finish it. Fueled by pot and pills, she seems close to a breakdown — especially when she begins to suspect that Emily is the mother who abused and abandoned her nearly 30 years earlier.
Costello paces the scenes for maximum impact on Nina Ball’s compact set; Michael Palumbo’s lighting, Cliff Caruthers’ sound, Kristin Miltner’s video images and a display of “reborn” dolls by Cher Simnitt and Stef Baldwin give the show an eerie edge.
The cast, costumed by Miyuki Bierlein, is excellent.
English gives Kelly a manic energy that never turns melodramatic; Alito projects warmth and intelligence under Daizy’s benign exterior. Holt, always superb, invests Emily with brittle urgency.
Dohrn’s script brings some surprises, and if the final scene feels a little forced, it still gives the audience plenty to think about. Art imitates life, but “Reborning” asks how far the artist will go to make it real.
Presented by SF Playhouse
Where: 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes June 11
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org