BABEL (Theatre Exile): Uncertifiable

Theatre Exile Babel
Photo by Paolo Nogueras

It’s hard to put my finger on what didn’t work for me in Theatre Exile’s rolling world premiere of local playwright Jaqueline Goldfinger’s Babel. The shows science fiction concept is pretty interesting! In the future (when Philadelphia has a beach apparently) overpopulation and global warming have led to “the New Eugenics.” These policies (which were passed by vote) include mandatory in utero testing for any physical, mental or behavioral deficiencies. If a fetus is not genetically “perfect,” it is destined for a life in a lower caste; it is “uncertifiable”.

Beyond the concept, the playwriting  was certainly serviceable, if rarely insightful or brilliant. There are even scenes between a character and a talking stork. It’s hard to imagine something more up my alley.

None of the performances are bad either. I found Amanda Schoonover to be quite good in her climactic scene. Anita Holland, as a mother-to-be dealing with disappointing test results, plays their role with frenetic energy. Bi Jean Ngo and Frank Nardi Jr. both have solid moments as well. I would say for the last 20 minutes (save an unneeded final scene), the show and these performances were downright enjoyable.

But leaving the theater, I felt deeply unsatisfied. Perhaps it is because the world this concept promises could be so much richer, more finely drawn. Perhaps it is because the direction and design seem to interpret futuristic as cold. I often felt at arm’s length from these characters. But as the play seems to suggest, everyone and everything, has potential. The play will have five more iterations in the coming season all over the country. I wonder what different eyes will bring to it.

[Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th Street] February 13-March 8, 2020

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