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Theater Review (LA): Yours, Isabel

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Can a love be strong enough to survive the onslaught of war? That’s the question asked in this funny and touching one-act making its American debut at Actors Co-op in Hollywood.

Set in Trenton, New Jersey on the eve of World War II, Yours, Isabel tells the story of the budding romance between a strong-willed Irish Catholic girl, Isabel, and her Italian-American beau, Nick. Neither of their families approves of the pairing, and when Nick rebelliously enlists in the army, time and distance conspire to tear their love apart.

As Nick is transferred to different bases around the country, the pair correspond frequently and take the opportunity to meet when they can, but as their separations grow longer, Isabel worries that her feelings for her beau are fading into mere memory.

Then comes the calamity of Pearl Harbor, and Nick is sent overseas, making their separation something truly intractable.

But Isabel thrives during wartime, relishing the opportunities that it offers the women back home—a good-paying job, independence, and the chance to wriggle out from under the oppressive shadow of her family. She even moves to Manhattan and hopes to spend the rest of her life there with Nick, far away from the depressing gloom of Trenton. But will he feel the same way she does after all this time?

Playwright Christy Hall, who played Isabel for the production’s world premiere at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has crafted a nostalgic, funny, and moving memory piece, inspired by actual letters that were exchanged between two lovers. Though Hall admits that she used very few direct quotes from the correspondence, she does an admirable job creating a portrait of young love against the backdrop of war.

Effectively using overlapping dialogue—during which the characters revise what they’ve just said mid-sentence, or answer the other’s question while it’s still being asked—Hall keeps the rhythm of the show fast and funny. Such a story can’t help but have poignant moments, and she renders them effectively as well. And even though it’s a familiar tale, Hall avoinds the pitfalls of endless cliches to make it feel fresh.

She also has something significant to say about female empowerment, which many women experienced for the first time during World War II.

Heather Chesley and Rick Marcus are fine as Isabel and Nick. Chesley convincingly portrays Isabel’s metamorphosis from rebellious youngster to self-assured woman, while Marcus, as Nick, evolves from an infatuated fiancee to war-sobered soldier. Chesley and Marcus also populate the story with a number of other characters, including Isabel’s scatterbrained best friend, Julie, and a sage Manhattan priest.

Direction and sound design by Marianne Savell is first-rate, as is the simple but effective scenic design by Gary Lee Reed. Kudos also go to Lisa D. Katz’s lighting design and Paula Higgins’ evocative costumes.

Yours, Isabel plays at the Actors Co-Op David Schall Theater at 1760 Gower Street in Hollywood, on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through March 11. Reservations can be made online or by calling (323) 462-8460, extension 300.

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.