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The Play-Goer: Colonial Players’ The Babylon Line

Everyone has a story — which makes a long play

       Don’t blame yourself if you’ve never heard of The Babylon Line, the second show of Colonial Players’ 70th season. It opened off Broadway in December 2016 and closed after just seven weeks.

         Playwright Richard Greenburg chose the title from the Long Island Railroad’s line. In 1967, Aaron Port rides that line to reverse commutes from New York City to Levittown to teach an adult-education writing course. Port’s own writing career has not taken off; he needs the money.

         He also needs the six people who have landed in his class. Three — Frieda, Anna and Midge — signed up because flower arranging and French cooking were unavailable. Which might explain why, on the first night of class, none has written anything to read aloud. None also includes the two men: Jack, a terse, limping World War II veteran; and Marc, a spaced-out young adult whose vocabulary pretty much consists of Hello, hello. None also includes the one person who wants to be there, Joan the recluse.

         The reticence of the students to share their stories matches Port’s reticence to teach. But, as the comedy wears off and stories emerge, The Babylon Line becomes an ingratiating character study. It also provides us with fine acting as these thespians move beyond their own characters to play characters in their classmates’ stories.

         As Aaron, Ron Giddings provides an  understated performance that allows the whirl of characters around him to breathe. His frustration with his own lack of success and with his students feels real, as does his interest in each as their stories emerges.

         Alicia Sweeney throws subtle but hilarious verbal darts as the bossy, intimidating Frieda. Mary MacLeod’s Anna is mousy yet so cheerful we know something is wrong at home. Lindsey Miller’s Midge is so perfectly suburbanite it’s hard to believe when she talks about her pre-Levittown radicalism.

         Jeff Sprague is appropriately gruff as Jack the veteran. Jack Leitess is so laid back as Marc that when he finally reads part of his opus, it’s a shock. Leitess also gives us an emotional highlight as a young man trying to learn why he was never taught anything about the world.

         As Joan, the recluse whose ardor for Aaron is anything but subtle, Robin Schwartz does a fine job allowing us to see her  inner torment while regaling the class with unedited and uncensored stories. One includes kicking an infant, who later becomes a critical character.

         Spot-on lighting by John Purnell takes us from the 1967 classroom into each character’s stories, completed with soft music by David Cooper. Director Jennifer Cooper understands that character studies like these demand a deft directorial hand; hers has woven wonderful stories and characters into a tapestry that makes Colonial Players’ The Babylon Line more memorable than its brief off-Broadway run would suggest.

         Be prepared to settle in. Opening night soaked up two hours and 45 minutes. You’ll be glad Nick Beschen’s classroom set flips during intermission, so the part of the in-the-round audience that saw actors’ backs for too long in the first act gets a different perspective. Still, one hopes that as the run progresses, the pace might tighten.

 

Playing ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, thru Nov. 10, Colonial Players, Annapolis, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.thecolonialplayers.org.