WEDNESDAY, Feb. 17 — Imagine a jigsaw puzzle set in front of you, but all the pieces are upside down. You turn them over one piece at a time, slowly figuring out what the complete picture is.
That’s the kind of complex, convoluted, gradually unfolding kind of play we are dealing with in Kickshaw Theatre’s production of “The Electric Baby.” The process is tantalizingly mysterious. What the hell is going on?
A Romanian Gypsy fortune-teller, perched high up in one corner, caresses a large, white glowing ball wrapped in swaddling cloths. A middle aged couple arrives on stage, fresh out of a party. The woman is angry. She steps into a street that we do not see. There is a blackout and a screech of tires. The lights come on, and we are in a hospital emergency room.
Then a flashback: A young couple stepping out of a club. They slip into a taxi. the driver is a happy African named Ambimbola. The young couple is not happy. The young man has discovered that his female friend is a part-time escort. They argue. The taxi driver attempts to intervene. Another blackout and a screech of brakes. Yep, the same brakes.
What gradually unfolds from here is a whole lot of grieving. We know that everyone grieves differently. In “The Electric Baby,” some of that grieving is not of a healthy kind.
Julia Glander plays Helen Casey, a middle-aged mother grieving the death of her daughter from a brain aneurysm. Her raging grief leads to the accident that takes the life of the young man in the back of the taxicab and causes serious injury to the cab driver. Glander evokes a weary woman for whom living makes no sense. Helen just wants to die.
We learn that the taxicab driver, Ambimbola (William Bryson), is a happy-go-lucky lottery ticket player who intends to give away any money he wins. Bryson uses a lilting accent and frequent shoulder shrugs of to convey the languid lassitude of his character. We eventually learn that Ambibola is married to Natalia, the fortune teller. Their baby, represented by the glowing globe, is dying, hooked up to electrical monitors and probes.
An African story is told — magical realism. The sun is jealous of the moon. The baby, representing of the moon, cannot go outside, lest the light of day might very well kill her.
Vanessa Sawson as Natalia, is part narrator, part semi-psychotic cynic who has seen too much of death. Natalia is the most exotic character on stage. Sawson plays up Natalia’s psychic eccentricities to the hilt.
The unfolding continues. We discover Reed Casey (Peter Carey), the alienated husband of Helen, had a moment of emotional vulnerability in which he has contacted Rozie, the aforementioned part-time escort. He’s now having second thoughts, and he explains that Rozie’s grief at losing her friend, Dan, caused him to see her as his own lost daughter.
Michael Lopetrone plays Dan — and also the hospital nurse — and also Dave, the waiter — and also the downstairs neighbor of Natalia and Ambimbola. Lopetrone plays each of these characters quite differently and exceedingly well, but in the eyes of grieving Rozie (Mary Dilworth), they are all hallucinogenic manifestations of Dan.
In the hands of lesser actors, this play might stumble and fall. Instead, the characters stumble and fall into and out of each other’s lives. Healing occurs. They are, mysteriously, there for each other in ways that one might hope close friends would be at times of grief, but rarely are.
“The Electric Baby”
Through February 21
See web for dates and times
Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth
704 Airport Blvd., Ann Arbor
(800) 838-3006, kickshawtheatre.org