BWW Review: 'Once You Write Something Down It's Forever' - ISABELLA at Counter-Productions Theatre Company
ISABELLA, written and directed by David J. Valentin, holds its world-premiere this weekend at AS220's Black Box Theatre. The play is both timely - given the nation's current opioid epidemic - and timeless, as addictions and the lengths to which people will go to protect their desired vision of life, are not a new phenomenon.
Isabella's first act could have been taken directly from an episode of the popular A&E TV show Intervention. We are introduced to drug-addicted Karen (Jenn Shammas), her boyfriend Eddie (roguishly portrayed by Rudy Rudacious), her 16-year-old daughter Isabella (Victoria Ezikovich), who, even before the play begins, is seen on stage writing continuously in one of her ever-present notebooks, and the alley they call home. The situation goes from dire to worse when Eddie gets into an altercation with a drug dealer, who demands five thousand dollars, one-thousand per week, or else all three of them will be killed. While Eddie turns to theft and Karen to prostitution as ways to provide their share, tension builds between Eddie and Isabella, as he resents the time she spends writing instead of bringing in money. When a man named Martin (Jay Walker) appears in the alley, offering cash for some time alone with Isabella, Eddie is all too eager to make the exchange. Fortunately, there's more to this than what is first implied, and as the act unfolds, we learn the truth about everyone's situations, for better or worse. Isabella's chance meeting with Martin may be the only chance she and Karen have for a better life. While Victoria Ezikovich's performance comes across as one-note at the start of the show, her anger and frustration at the circumstances she finds herself in do make sense. Her mixture of complicated emotions truly glimmer through in the scenes with Karen during the latter half of Act 1.
Following a brief intermission (notice of which would have been a welcome addition to either the pre-show announcements or the program), the pacing slows down considerably in Act 2. We're sent back in time, to Martin's apartment on the several occasions Isabella visits him. Jay Walker does an outstanding job transitioning from a monotone, grieving author, to someone who has visibly warmed up as he and Isabella bond over their shared love of writing. MJ Daly also deserves a special mention, as Katherine, part of the publishing team that takes an interest in Isabella's poems, who isn't afraid to get under Isabella's skin to prove a point about her talent. Upon learning of the teenager's plight, she helps make arrangements to get the girl and her mother into a more secure living situation.
But the audience knows that trouble is inevitable, based on the closing scene of Act 1. Without giving away too many more details, the show ends on a bittersweet note following a Sweeney Todd-esque tableau, minus the straight razors. The very final scene is the only time the Ensemble gets a chance to take the stage, otherwise relegated to the sidelines to help move scenery and props when called for.
The scenic design (also by David J. Valentin), and Steven Williams' lighting design are simple but effective, portraying the alley in Act 1 and Martin's living room in Act 2, utilizing the black box theatre's limited space well. Acoustic guitar accompaniment (player not noted in the program) was provided for each scene change, as well as a version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" which all helped set the right tone for the show from the start. During the alley scenes, recorded bird sounds were supplemented by the very real rumbling of trucks outside on Empire St., which worked perfectly for ambience.
The story is not without some potential plot holes - did Isabella not have other friends or family to turn to? Was it necessary for her to drop out of school? Nitpicking aside, Isabella explores a number of universal themes, from coping with grief to the creative process, so that everyone is sure to find moments of poignancy even if one's life has never been touched by addiction.
Isabella plays for one weekend only, with remaining shows Friday, April 27th and Saturday, April 28th at 7:00pm and Sunday, April 29th at 2:00pm at AS220's Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire Street, Providence, RI. Admission is $20 at the door, at www.cptcri.com, or call (401) 419-2205.
Photo credits: https://www.cptcri.com/