Fertile Ground for Good Theater

by Lennie Magida

“It’s a comedy about infertility.”

That’s my standard response when people ask me about the play I’m currently directing, “Expecting Isabel” by Lisa Loomer. It’s been more than 25 years since I’ve been immersed in the world of infertility and adoption: the physical travails, emotional swings, medical mumbo-jumbo, constant expense, good and bad surprises…and the ultimate joy of adopting a child. But here I am again, thanks to theater. It’s art imitating a pivotal part of my life, except that – thank goodness! – the characters in my life weren’t nearly as crazy as the characters in the play. And it really is a comedy, albeit laced with many poignant moments – as one might expect, given the subject matter.

“Expecting Isabel” (or just “Iz,” as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Miranda and Nick, New Yorkers nearing age 40, eager to have a baby but having trouble conceiving. Miranda comes from a financially secure but emotionally difficult background: her father committed suicide, and her mother drinks too much. (But it’s a comedy, I swear!) Her job? Writing condolence cards. Nick, on the other hand, comes from a boisterous Italian American family that has its own set of quirks. He’s the odd man out in this working-class clan because he became a sculptor. He’s generally a glass-half-full guy – a marked contrast to Miranda, who opens the play by saying, “I am not a…‘happy’ woman.”

Nick announces that he’s ready for a child. At first Miranda resists…but then, poof, she’s obsessed. They embark on an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque quest for parenthood, dealing along the way with fellow would-be parents, a fertility specialist, a therapist, a loudmouth Russian cabbie, a marriage counselor, an adoption facilitator, several pregnant young women, a nightmare vision of a girl named Isabel, and assorted others…not to mention their own families and their relationship. All told, there are more than two dozen characters (and eight actors. Except for the two portraying Miranda and Nick, everyone in the cast plays multiple roles.)

We’re doing the play at Silver Spring Stage, near where I live in the Maryland suburbs. I’ve done a lot of acting, directing and producing with community theaters in this part of the DC region, and the Stage has pretty much become my “home” theater. (I’m on the board, too.) A few years ago, it decided to focus on plays that aren’t too typical for community theaters: contemporary, “different,” sometimes challenging dramas and comedies. “Iz” fits right in. It debuted in 1998, so its reproductive-technology-speak isn’t completely up-to-date, but it’s still indisputably a contemporary piece. I mean, “Our Town” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” don’t have scenes in which a character does a yoga handstand “to help the sperm find their way home.”

My involvement with “Iz” feels very meant-to-be. Given my history, I was interested in directing it as soon as I found out the Stage was doing it. But it was originally slated for June 2013…and that’s when my daughter, Nina – the wonderful result of our infertility-and-adoption saga way back when – is getting married. Oh well, I thought. But the director of one of the other plays was eager to take the June slot. So we swapped, and “Expecting Isabel” will be come forth into the world on January 11. Then, on June 8, I’ll have the immeasurable pleasure of being mom of the bride for our beautiful Nina, who became part of our family as a 2 pound, 5 ounce Filipina preemie nearly 26 years ago. It all feels like part of a wonderful cycle – which, come to think of it, is an awfully appropriate context for a comedy about infertility.

The “Iz” team has a lot to do before we open. (The wedding team also has a lot to do, but that’s another post!) My terrific actors are still getting to know all their characters, not to mention their lines. We’re figuring out costumes, lights, sound – the whole usual shebang. It’s a familiar process. And, of course, it’s not unusual to find elements of a play that relate to one’s own life.

But still…“Iz” is the first show in which it’s been relevant for me to describe what it was like when my infertility surgery failed, or when a pre-Nina adoption fell through after the baby was born. Both those things happen in “Expecting Isabel.” It’s so real that it feels almost surreal.

It is, if you’ll excuse the pun, fertile ground for good theater.


  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

  2. Lennie, I sure wish I could see this play. Too bad I am not in Maryland!

  3. Break a leg! And shake one on the dance floor at your daughter’s wedding.

  4. Best of luck with this wonderful creative project!

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