Top Pick! – It would be a shame for anyone who’s loved and lost to miss Yours,Isabel, presented as part of the new Wattage performance series over at Capital Fringe. The show is stuffed with language – words of longing scribbled across pages and pages. Perhaps written words can’t fully capture the look in a lover’s eye, the pressure of a warm embrace. But when the lover is gone, it’s the scraps of paper we worship. Words become our heart’s uneasy salvation – just enough, but always incomplete.
In living out the written letters passed between the excitable Isabel (Stephanie Roswell) and the magnanimous Nick (Matt Lutz), two lovers shaken by the tremors of wartime, Autumn Stages and director Rex Daugherty present a pitch-perfect little historical epic, featuring two actors who’ve discovered, by journeying through separation, a remarkable sense of closeness.
The cynical among us might balk at the seeming dreariness of a World War II romance told entirely through mailed correspondence. The faded photographs on the show’s advertising don’t help to dispel that whiff of the archival. But don’t be fooled. The passion pulsing through Yours, Isabel is so fresh, so genuinely intoxicated, that not a speck of dust has time to settle.
Isabel and Nick miss each other deeply after he decides, against the wishes of his family, to join the army and leave Trenton, NJ. Even though the two find time on occasion to meet up, the attack on Pearl Harbor sends him off even further: across the water to fight in Italy.
So, for the sake of one another, each becomes a narrator for the ways life changes and stays the same. The young Isabel especially – she’s 21 years old at the start of the show – pours out her heart with barely an intake of breath, and her fidgety idealism is rewarded with a string of personal successes that eventually lands her an industrial job at Eastern Aircraft, in support of her man abroad.
Sometimes the letters flutter by so fast – with the actors updating their postmark dates mid-sentence – it feels like the pages are being blown off a tabletop by a gust of wind. In many moments Lutz and Roswell speak overlapping text, sharing the same heart as they are. In others they’re playing each other’s supporting roles – he, with his back turned and a wrist raised, may become an old girlfriend of hers – and the actors have a lot of fun crafting an imaginary ensemble, animated by a variety of twangs, lilts, and the hopscotched cadences of 1940s radio announcers.
It’s a firecracker of a show, one that repeatedly shows itself unblemished by the cliched pining and melodramatic tears that could so easily dampen such a long-distance love story. In large part the credit goes to director Daugherty, who’s clearly learned a thing or two from his stage experience in Solas Nua’s gloriously breakneck production of Disco Pigs a few months back. Here, in The Shop at Fort Fringe, the set is virtually nil: three small black blocks, a few well-timed light cues, and some ghostly period music. Overall it’s dimly-lit, and wisely so. As Nick lingers in the outer rim of an incandescent glow, watching Isabel begin each new day, Roswell seems to serve as her own light source – a self-professed engine of hope with raised chin and furrowed brow.
In storytelling terms, the central conflicts are predictable. It certainly doesn’t bode well that she’s Irish Catholic and he’s Italian Protestant. The major points of contention of the show – whether his military service will drive a wedge between him and his family, whether his parents approve of her, whether he’ll commit to marrying her – are literary devices which, while fairly reliable, don’t serve as much more than emotional backdrop for a story told live. But Roswell’s dynamic style, and the muscle Lutz puts into supporting her performance – ignites the most interesting question: whether the woman she’s growing into matches up with the girl he first fell for.
Scenes later in the show explore, as one might expect, the complicated experience of finally seeing each other again in person after many months of writing letters to the idealized memory of the other.
Isabel, in particular, finds the heartache uncanny: “I see you more in my mind than anyplace else,” she says sadly. If we didn’t believe so fully in the power of their connection, maybe we’d waver too. But as it’s told, by the end we’re convinced that love, too, will soldier on.
Yours, Isabel – Top Pick!
Written by Christy Hall
Directed by Rex Daugherty
Produced by Autumn Stages at Capital Fringe
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Yours, Isabel runs through May 9, 2010
Click here for Details, Directions and Tickets.