Lisa Loomer tackles the very delicate subject of infertility with humor and tenderness in her eye-opening 1998 contemporary comedy “Expecting Isabel,” breezily directed by Robb Willoughby at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Down-to-earth Manhattan couple Nick and Miranda, respectively relatable as an aspiring sculptor and greeting card writer, eagerly endeavor to have a child, but face continuous obstacles along the way. In addition to coping with colorful input from Nick’s larger-than-life Italian family and Miranda’s tipsy mother, the duo attempts everything from marriage counseling and support groups to fertility drugs and medical tests incorporating animal experiments. In fact, their painstaking pursuit leads them to separation, particularly as Miranda seeks solace with her mom while Nick moves back in with his animated brood. Even so, in spite of disappointing setbacks, they remain committed to their ultimate desire to start a family, a decision that eventually leads them on the complicated yet fulfilling road to adoption.
Rachel Wilson and Shawn Hooks are believably compatible in the leading roles. Quickly pulling the audience in at the outset during Miranda’s revealing opening monologue, Wilson delivers a firm, appealing portrayal. Her performance possesses the engaging complexity and tangible exasperation required to bring credence to the play’s most fascinating character, an emotionally scarred woman with a rocky family history who honestly hadn’t thought about having a child. Hooks, amiable and supportive in a less flashy role, earnestly conveys Nick’s genuine longing to become a father, especially in Act 2 as his benevolent impulses gets the best of him.
Loomer, perhaps best known as the co-screenwriter of “Girl, Interrupted,” propels the comedy by having the ensemble portray multiple characters. Ellen Ballerene (Tina), Rick Flynn (Sal), Joshua Lisec (Dominic), Dorothy Michalski (Yolanda), Angelé Price (Pat), Amy Taint (Lila), and Angela Timpone (Isabel) step up to the plate beyond stereotypical caricature. Most of their moments are geared toward comic relief, but Price deserves special mention for bringing substantive poignancy to her portrayal of Lupé, an overburdened Hispanic mom faced with a critical decision.
One day amid a parade of baby carriages, Miranda is gently reminded “everything you went through was part of the path.” Parenthood certainly spurs challenges and Loomer cautiously advises to expect the unexpected.
“Expecting Isabel” continues through March 16 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students. For tickets or more info: Call (937) 278-5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org