Reborning: a strong debut for a new theater company

Beirut Wedding kicks into action with a funny and provocative drama, a CoHo cross-promotion, and music from Portland bands

Bobby Bermea and Jamie Rea’s new theater company, Beirut Wedding, makes some wise moves right out of the gate. Open the program, and a coupon falls out, recommending that if you like this show, Reborning, then you may enjoy CoHo Theatre’s concurrent play, The How and The Why. Indeed you may. Since both shows prominently feature the relationship between an older and a younger woman, and both confront the complexities of motherhood, it’s a natural pairing.

But what’s more: on trend with upcoming shows at Portland Center Stage and Artists Rep, they’ve scored their debut show entirely with local music, listed the bands in the program, and given them a shoutout in the curtain speech. (As a former PDX Pop Now volunteer, it warms my heart whenever creative groups source their music locally. With every genre, subgenre and non-genre well represented, there’s no good reason not to. Beirut Wedding has chosen roaring hard rock and smart, sardonic rap from Tiny Knives, Myke Bogan, Candace, A Volcano, and We the Wild.)

Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Tiffany Groben. Photo © Russell J Young

Murri Lazaroff-Babin and Tiffany Groben. Photo © Russell J Young

Such community partnerships extend the reach and deepen the creative context of a show. Every company that hasn’t, should try them.

Now as it happens, I’ve already seen and reviewed the CoHo play The How and The Why, and deemed it enlightened but humorless—and herein lies the downside of alliances: With the companies encouraging comparison, I wondered if I’d have the same objections to Reborning as I did to How/Why.

Nope. Mercifully, it was much funnier. Though the scripts are thematically quite similar—similar characters with a similar relationship and attitudes discussing similar topics—painfully, the differences include this one being about artists rather than scientists, this one being written by a man (Zayd Dohrn), and this one having a young male character providing all of the comic relief. I don’t like what that seems to say about me, about women, or about female scientists … but even attempting to correct for that, I can’t deny my preference. So maybe it was just funnier.

Kelly (Tiffany Groben) and Daizy (Murri Lazaroff-Babin) are a Rhode Island School of Design grad couple who’ve each sold out into mail-order sculpture careers. Living and working in an industrial loft in Queens (which feels like the real thing thanks to deft scenic design), Daizy (the boy, in case that wasn’t clear) makes custom dildos, and Kelly designs more intricate sculptures to fill a different hole: custom baby dolls for mostly-bereaved mothers. The older woman here is Emily (Jana Lee Hamblin), Kelly’s particularly ardent and thorough customer who’s grappling with the loss of her only baby and the onset of menopause. Along with Daizy, Emily ends up probing into Kelly’s tortured past and discovering the dark, tortured source of the younger woman’s general resistance to motherhood.

Should that story even be funny? Well, should a cookie recipe have a pinch of salt? Salty cookies sound repulsive and wrong … and yet … a pinch is perfect. Daizy, who gets a lot of lines but only tertiary dramatic significance, is that pinch personified. And his levity propels the play past Kelly’s volatile tension and Emily’s halting, self-conscious sorrow.

Beirut Wedding has suggested that this play poses, but does not resolve, four main dilemmas. Upon viewing, here are—if not resolutions—at least a few proposals Reborning seems to make:

How do we heal from loss? Through trial and error, we find a method that works for us, even if to others it may look crazy. What can’t heal us is talking to some “nice” person who lacks the experience to relate.

What is the engine of art? Often, a person with a rare skill whom others exalt as an artist, but who sees themself as “an unhappy person with a weird hobby.” Sometimes commerce/necessity. Sometimes the need to please others.

Who owns any given work of art, the artist or the audience? It’s an intractable tug-of-war that pulls to one side or the other based on the strength of either party’s attachment to the work. But if there ever is a tie-break … bet on the creator.

How does a woman define her own life in the 21st century?  One of the latest-breaking women’s rights is the right to be the messed-up main character in your own story, rather than either the supportive girlfriend to a tortured male genius, or the femme fatale who brings down a male hero. Here, Kelly joins the growing ranks of gifted-but-troubled leading women alongside Marvel’s Jessica Jones and the anti-heroines of In The Forest She Grew Fangs.

Accepting humanity’s inevitable flaws, let’s at least resolve to give male and female maladjustment equal standing. Okay, Dildo? Fair enough, Baby Doll?

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Beirut Wedding’s Reborning continues through November 20 at Action/Adventure Theatre, 1050 S.E. Clinton St., Portland. Ticket and schedule information here.

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