Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Expecting Isabel: Finding Fun in the Tribulations of Seeking to Have a First Child at the Age of 38
Also see Bob's review of Pride and Prejudice
Expecting Isabel chronicles the efforts of a middle class Manhattan couple, 38-year-old Miranda and her husband Nick, to have a child. Nick is a struggling sculptor, the happy, down to earth product of an Italian working class family. Miranda, who writes and designs greeting cards, is an Episcopalian worrywart with an alcoholic, waspy mother. Over the course of the first act, the couple go through the whole range of activities endemic to a couple having difficulty conceiving. In the second act, author Loomer takes us through their efforts to adopt a child. There are moving, dramatic passages as we share the anxiety, disappointment and heartache which they experience. Along the way, the strain which their efforts place on them leads to a separation which finds Miranda going to live with her mother, and Nick returning to his parental home. Janet Sales and Clark Carmichael play the struggling couple. The balance of the cast plays all the other roles. These include family members, doctors, nurses, support group members, social workers, pregnant young women and taxi drivers.
Initially, and from time to time thereafter, Miranda narrates, speaking directly to the audience. At one point, Nick argumentatively cautions us that what we are watching is Miranda's less than completely accurate version of events. Janet Sales is a funny and appealing, very human Miranda. It is Nick, impelled by the realization that he is "almost forty," who decides that he wants a child. Thus, the flustered Miranda's initial efforts to have one are propelled entirely by a good natured desire to make Nick happy. Sales is able to convey Miranda's complex range of emotion. She provides the realistic center which is the ballast for the comic caricatures of her supporting players. Clark Carmichael nicely conveys the perplexity the straightforward Nick feels in the rigid conservatism and bigotry which he encounters in his family as well as in the labyrinth to which his desire for parenthood leads him.
In her largest role, Laura Ekstrand has a lot of fun underlining the pose of propriety of Lila, Miranda's perpetually inebriated mother. Scott McGowan and Mona Hennessy do not shy away from the unflattering stereotypes that Loomer has made of Nick's parents. This enables them to maximize the undeniable humor. The distinctive Harry Patrick Christian has numerous roles, which include a supercilious doctor, a clueless cabbie, and Nick's pigheaded brother. Each role is an excellent fit for his broad, stylish comic performance. Carrie Tavris also has her chance to shine as Nick's sister and a pregnant youngster considering putting her baby up for adoption.
Toward the end of the first act, as scenes dealing with different aspects of trying to conceive pile up, the feeling that we are watching a series of sketches rather than a play intrudes upon our involvement. However, by the first act curtain, the question of whether to adopt is raised, and in the second act, the exploration of issues pertaining to adoption restores a sense of substance to the proceedings. Ultimately, there is too much preachy political corrections, but rest assured, entertaining humor is always close at hand.
Director (and company member) Dave Maulbeck always keeps things up tempo and lively, and adds inventive humor to the proceeding. You will especially get a kick out of the comic business with the Thanksgiving dinner table at Nick's parents. Alexandra Stine's minimal, all-purpose set (mostly a black background with three entrances set within wood trim outlines suggesting tall buildings) proves adequate.
Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre is an actor's collective which, between major productions, has featured its talented actors (designated as the Multiple Personality Disorder Troupe) in evenings of improvisational comedy. Expecting Isabel is a free-wheeling comedy which provides an excellent showcase for Dreamcatcher's loose, free wheeling improv style.
Expecting Isabel continues performances (Friday & Saturday 8 p.m./ Sunday 2 p.m.) through November 12 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Baird Center, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ, 07079. Box Office: 973-378-7754, ext.2228; online: www.DreamcatcherRep.org.
Expecting Isabel by Lisa Loomer; directed by Dave Maulbeck