By Daniel Skora
In its promotional material, the theatre defines it as a “rare delight”. Other definitions scattered around the internet say it means: “something fantastical”, “an exotic delicacy”, or “a fancy dish”. What that means, put simply, is that the word “kickshaw” translates into something special, something unique and out of the ordinary.
And those words are precisely the reason the latest new theatrical endeavor in southeastern Michigan has decided to call itself the Kickshaw Theatre. It’s a labor of love to the three women who live and breathe live theatre. Lynn Lammers, who has an extensive background directing and producing, is Kickshaw’s artistic director. Jane Griffith, with a background in organization and management, is the executive director. Heidi Bennett serves as the Connectivity Associate.
Kickshaw wastes no time in getting to its mission of presenting “uncommon stories and stylistic daring”. Their first production is “The Electric Baby”, and to say that the show is unconventional is putting it mildly. The play opens to Natalia (Vanessa Swanson), a Romanian woman who sits above the stage tending to her little baby. The baby is indeed electric, its head a large white globe lit from a cord that leads back to the play’s brick-wall background. In between bestowing affections on her baby, Natalia talks to the audience, dispensing remedies for ailments as diverse as coughs and body odor, and regaling them with stories and fables from the old country. The scene then switches to a married couple, Helen (Julia Glander) and Reed Casey (Peter Carey) whose relationship has turned bitter in part because of the death of their adult daughter. Helen is a difficult woman about to set the play on a tragic path.
Enter Ambimbola (William Bryson), a Nigerian cab driver and husband to Natalia who enjoys giving lottery tickets to his passengers while telling them African fables. Very soon he will be involved in a car accident and find himself in the hospital. His two passengers at the time of the crash are Rozie (Mary Dilworth), a waitress who supplements her income by working as a prostitute, and Dan (Michael Lopetrone), a young man who has become infatuated with her.
Playwright Stefanie Zadravec’s hour and forty minute play is about relationships and coincidences. Equal parts fantasy and reality, the play is an intellectual excursion whose end game is not always discernible. What can really be said with any kind of certainty about a play whose salient image is a baby whose head looks like the dome of a 1920’s streetlamp. The moon is an integral part of the story, the stories and fables a kind of road map to the action. Zadravec unites these seemingly unrelated characters by way of a tragedy.
“The Electric Baby” is smart, imaginative theatre. The terrific cast makes each of the twenty or so scenes a joy to watch. The play, however, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Its structure is neither linear nor plot oriented. With an emphasis on theme and characterization, it requires a considerable amount of mind bending to be able to truly capture its meaning.
“The Electric Baby” is directed by Lynn Lammers. Set design is by Amber Marisa Cook with costumes by Em Rossi. The show runs through February 21st. Tickets are available online at www.kickshawtheatre.org or by phone at 800.838.3006. This production of Kickshaw Theatre is being performed at The Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, 704 Airport Blvd. in Ann Arbor. Future productions of Kickshaw Theatre may be held elsewhere.