Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Babylon Line ** C-

Making fun of the conformity of life in Levittown 50 years ago is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. The target is too easy. Nevertheless, Richard Greenberg’s look at a creative writing class in the local adult education program, now in previews at Lincoln Center Theater, initially shows promise. The presence of such stalwarts of the New York stage as Randy Graff, Julie Halston and Frank Wood as three of the students is a big help. Josh Radnor (Disgraced) is no slouch either as their teacher, an unsuccessful writer who makes the weekly trip from Manhattan to earn a few dollars. Ms. Graff plays a stereotypical overbearing yenta, who would be objectionable if she weren’t so amusing. Ms. Halston, as one of her friends, is more open-minded. Maddie Corman portrays another friend, who has a rocky marriage. Frank Wood plays a veteran suffering from what we now call PTSD, who seeks release in his writing. Michael Oberholtzer plays a strange young man, possibly on the spectrum, who is working on a magnum opus. The final student is a mysterious woman who has lived in Levittown for many years, but is unknown to the others. This character, portrayed by Elizabeth Reaser, whom I have admired on other occasions, has for some reason been saddled with a Southern accent that comes and goes. (Perhaps there was a course on Tennessee Williams next door and she wandered into the wrong classroom.) The first act proceeds smoothly, but after intermission things go seriously off the rails. The second act is overlong and overwrought, burdened with lame gimmicks and false endings. Richard Hoover’s classroom set is excellent. I can't vouch for the accuracy of  Sarah J. Holden’s period costumes, but they seem appropriate. Director Terry Kinney gets tripped up in the second act problems. There are several entertaining moments along the way, but by the end most of the goodwill I felt after Act One had vanished. At least it’s an improvement over Greenberg's last play, “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” which he briefly references. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission

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