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Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Presents "The Babylon Line"

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Lincoln Center Theater
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Andre Bishop: Producing Artistic Director

The Babylon Line
(The Babylon Line Web Page)
By Richard Greenberg

Maddie Corman, Randy Graff, Julie Halston, Michael Oberholtzer
Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Reaser, Frank Wood

Directed by Terry Kinney

Sets: Richard Hoover
Costumes: Sarah J. Holden
Lighting: David Weiner
Sound: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Projections: Darrel Maloney
Stage Manager: Denise Yaney
Casting: Telsey + Company and Daniel Swee
Managing Director: Adam Siegel
Exec. Dir., Development & Planning: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Jessica Niebanck
Production Manager: Paul Smithyman

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 15, 2016

The Babylon Line, fall and winter 1967, transports Aaron Port (Josh Radnor) to his nighttime, adult education teaching job, a freelance gig he needs to supplement his marital income, as he hasn’t published much of his own lately. He needs creative inspiration, and the six Levittown locals are happy to oblige, but not at first. It takes a good deal of pedagogical coaxing and intra-student confrontation to get everyone expressing themselves in mostly amateur writing pieces, which seem like they were composed on the back of recipes or PennySaver pages. The setting is a local high school classroom, bare and barren with movable wooden desks. Randy Graff is Frieda Cohen, an aggressive homemaker with a borough accent and gestures, who has a dark, poignant secret that seems fairly contrived. Maddie Corman is Anna Cantor, straight-laced, repressed, while Julie Halston, who was fabulous last season in You Can’t Take It with You, is Midge Braverman, both friends of Frieda. Marital wrecks are hidden, while European trips are celebrated in the extremely juvenile writing submissions, such as Jack Hassenpflug’s (Frank Wood). Jack is a Korean War veteran, whose wife always says “That again?”, when he jumps up from a flashback dream, and his dismay with her emotional distance is fodder for his own piece, filled with second grade level sentences.

Two additional locals who join the class are Marc Adams (Michael Oberholtzer) and Joan Dellamond (Elizabeth Reaser). These two younger characters are each unique to themselves, with the tall, blond Marc deeply robotic is manner, posture, and language, as he compulsively repeats “Hi” or short comments, some echoing his peers. Mr. Oberholtzer, like Mr. Wood, and one of the women from time to time, doubles as a character in the written story that’s presented in class. Joan, the most fully developed character, other than Aaron, is also trapped in a loveless marriage, as this class is part group therapy, part writing. Joan exudes faux shyness to keep her female classmates afar, but becomes as aggressive as Frieda, through her writing and through her determined seduction of Aaron, their teacher. Based on the disturbing nature of her admitted physical violence in the spoken narrations, it was inconceivable that the wise, slightly graying, bearded Aaron would have spent so much after-class time resisting her intrusiveness and psychobabble. It would have been more likely that Aaron would ask her to leave with the others and lock the door early. In contrast, Aaron fell into baited traps, discussing his wife and marriage to a woman who could not easily be scorned. Also incongruous was the lack of class planning and use of visuals to guide the students’ writing growth. As a former, college creative writing adjunct, I found the sparse level of professionalism in the weekly sessions surprising. .

Playwright, Richard Greenberg, who has been favorably reviewed on these pages over the years, appears to use Aaron to narrate his own thoughts about the challenges of creative writing, and I did find these asides often engrossing. But, sometimes Mr. Greenberg seemed to be stretching, embellishing the points as additional material. I would suggest synopsizing the play into a one-act, cutting a half hour or so, as scene changes repeat the ritual of who enters the classroom first, who befriends whom, how cliques shift, and what the temperature is of the nightly mood. Most intriguing were Darrel Maloney’s projections of the train station, an exterior building, a snowy landscape, and such, through the dense, smeared windows. Richard Hoover’s shabby classroom set was perfect for Levittown adult ed. in the 60’s. Sarah Holden’s costumes included Ms. Reaser’s tight stretch pants, shirts, and heels, the other women’s more modest, button-up dresses and blouses, flair skirts and heels, and Mr. Radnor’s loose jacket and jeans. David Weiner’s lighting is finely nuanced, and the Milburn-Bodeen sound team kept the dialogue and Mr. Radnor’s monologues vibrantly bright. Kudos to the ensemble.

Frank Wood, Maddie Corman, Julie Halston,
Randy Graff, and Josh Radnor
in Richard Greenberg's "The Babylon Line"
Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

Elizabeth Reaser and Michael Oberholtzer
in Richard Greenberg's "The Babylon Line"
Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at