This weekend, 10 Yale students will perform in “Expecting Isabel,” a comedic ensemble piece about a couple’s quest to have a baby. Gilbert Saenz ’19 and Abbey Burgess ’19 co-directed the play, which features bold stylistic choices.
For one, the production has no set, except for 10 chairs. Saenz explained that the minimalist approach encouraged the team to focus on the acting. It is a choice he’s been considering for a long time — Saenz originally performed in “Expecting Isabel” as a junior in high school and has been brainstorming ways to do the show differently ever since.
“It’s one of those plays that never leaves your mind,” Saenz said.
Burgess added that the lack of set actually allowed the directors to build a more realistic world than would have been feasible with a traditional set. Burgess said this allowed them to “stretch the boundaries of a realist piece.” The rehearsal process lasted only seven weeks, and like any student production, the crew operated under a budget. Foregoing a set gave them more freedom to establish an intricate setting.
This world in “Expecting Isabel” is built, in part, by the actors. All the actors are on stage for the entirety of the production, with the exception of one pivotal and purposeful moment. This serves a functional purpose, as the characters form tableaus — depictions of a scene onstage by silent and motionless characters — that highlight the play’s action. But the choice also speaks to the play’s understanding of the unborn. According to Saenz, “Expecting Isabel” explores the concept that the unborn are always watching their parents, waiting until their parents are ready to have them. The actors on stage are meant to represent “this idea of unity, community and this idea that everyone is watching,” Saenz said.
This might not sound like a comedy, but the directors maintain that its serious subject matter is part of the play’s beauty.
“What’s so great about ‘Isabel’ is it deals with some really serious topics that are traditionally taboo. … It forces you to find the joy,” Burgess said.
Neither Burgess nor Saenz has directed a comedy before, but they used their extensive experience with dramas to shape their comedic approach. Abbey explained that in comedy, “the buy in is almost more,” adding that a viewer should “believe that this is a real scenario.”
This realism led to comedic moments that went beyond the scope of the script.
“We’ve found that directing drama and comedy isn’t that different,” Saenz said. “It’s all life and death.”
Both Burgess and Saenz spoke highly of their ensemble. The group of 12 were friends before the production, and the experience of putting on the play has only brought them closer. According to the directors, the rehearsal process relied on open communication among cast members.
Erin Hebert ’18, one of the 10 actors, attested to this.
“I’ve never been in such an ensemble-based play before,” Hebert said.
While the topic of fertility is not directly relatable to college students, Burgess was clear that the play asks the right questions, most notably, “How do you think about your place in the world?”
“We didn’t come into this thinking in any way that we were going to figure this out, but rather that we were going to go on a journey,” Burgess said.
“Expecting Isabel” will be held in the Saybrook Underbrook this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., as well as Saturday at 2 p.m.
Lindsay Daugherty | firstname.lastname@example.org