Expecting Isabel at Lowry Lab Theatre

Expecting Isabel - Publicity photo

At the outset I have to declare a prejudice: my wife (my play-going companion last night) and I are adoptive parents. We underwent, 13 years ago, the infertility/adoption tribulations of the hapless couple in Lisa Loomer‘s Expecting Isabel (Theatre Unbound, Lowry Lab Theatre, 350 St. Peter St., St. Paul, through Feb 28, theatreunbound.com). Anyone who has ever gone through this god-awful process, or knows someone who has – and this is everyone, right? – will enjoy this delightful and frighteningly funny play.

Loomer really puts her characters through the wringer. Her heroes, Miranda and Nick (Christine M. Johnson and Eric Knutson) begin as a happy if somewhat bland couple in their late 30s who, almost as a lark, with growing awareness of their advancing age (at least in child-bearing terms), decide to get pregnant. It doesn’t work, and they soon find themselves in Infertility World, taking megadoses of hormones (which cause, among other lovely effects, bloating, violent mood swings and hair loss), trying to get impregnate hamster eggs, etc. Failing here, they move into Adoption World, with weird support groups, larcenous birth moms, oddball counselors, etc. Along the way, they fall deeply into debt, lose their NYC apartment, their jobs and – almost – their marriage. I say “almost” because this is where Loomer really excels. Her Miranda and Nick discover untapped reserves of strength and resilience and this keeps the play focused and funny. The ending, the details of which I won’t reveal here, is truly lovely.

As Miranda and Nick, Johnson and Knutson are marvelous. Johnson’s Miranda is sweet, shy, gorgeously neurotic and Knutson’s Nick is pugnaciously upbeat, confused about everything – except that he loves his wife, desperately. This is their triumph: as different as Miranda and Nick are, we never doubt their passion.

The rest of the ensemble (Delta Rae Giordano, Dwight Gunderson, Noë Tallen, David Schlosser, Roneet Aliza Rahamim and Nora Montañez) is very good. I wish I had space here to wax enthusiastic about everyone. Still, I have to mention the astonishingly beautiful Montañez who plays birth mother Lupe with vivid intelligence and the diminutive Rahamim, whose presence in a variety of roles is quiet yet luminous. We’ll be hearing more from her, I’m sure.

Director Rebecca Rizzio and her squad of designers (Brittany Eastburn, Carol Critchley, A. Emily Heaney and Brian Hesser) work wonders with the space and the limited budget. The play flows cinematically, with no energy-sapping set changes and lots of good mood-building music.

Oh, yes: our son Michael is a happy seventh grader and he challenges you all to a World of Warcraft showdown.

Recommended.

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