by Hugh Hunter
“Expecting Isabel” (1998) by Lisa Loomer, now running at Allens Lane Theater, follows the travails of a Manhattan couple in their late 30s who decide to have a baby. It’s not Miranda’s (Mare Mikalic) idea. In direct audience address, she describes herself as the perfect pessimist and neurotic. But peppy Nick (Michael Sheldon) bounces on stage to propose it, and so casually he might as well be saying “Let’s do pizza tonight.”
They get more than they bargained for. As this couple virtually goes shopping for a baby, they run a gauntlet of doctors, self-help books, support groups and therapists. And then there are all those dysfunctional family get-togethers. The early going is delightfully funny.
Director Loretta Lucy Miller’s pace is frenetic, or we would be there all night. Her backdrop of squirmy sperm could just as easily be a starry night panorama. Actor pantomime and sounds of street life make up for a stage that is bare except for a bank of metal chairs.
Playwright Loomer has a stand-up comic background, and it shows. “Expecting” consists of a long stream of skits (maybe as many as 50), and bit characters as an ensemble tend to take over the play. For much of the time Miranda and Nick seem to be watching, just like us.
Susan Triggiani is terrific as Nick’s mom and several other roles. Gene Harris is a show-stopper as a Frankenstein-like doctor and an immigrant cabbie. I also liked Jim Broyles as Nick’s comically fertile brother and Linda Palmarozza as Miranda’s alcoholic mother.
Act two is equally long as the couple try to adopt. The skits keep coming. Raquel Noemi Perez and Allyson Frick are funny as mothers who consider giving up their children, but by now the mood has turned grim because you see that Miranda and Nick are really getting whipped.
Mikalic and Sheldon work well together as Miranda and Nick, but Loomer’s script limits what they can do. We know what the characters are like because they tell us, often in direct address, but you do not feel involved in what they are going through. In “Expecting,” pain is shaped into humor. Everyone knows couples who live with the tragedy of infertility, and comedy can be a way of talking about things that are no laughing matter.
Though I very much doubt it was the production’s intention, I also found the show to be a sort of burlesque of the modern, consumerist way of life in which a paltry supermarket mentality seeps into the most intimate kinds of decisions.
But is “Expecting” a comedy or a drama? Neither one, it seems to me. Though Allens Lane did a good job staging it, Loomer’s play was more like disguised improvisational comedy. “Expecting” is funny, then sad, but I have no idea what Loomer is trying to say.
Allens Lane Theater is located at Allens Lane near McCallum Street in West Mt. Airy. “Expecting Isabel” will run through Dec. 1. Reservations at 215-248-0546.
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