Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Babylon Line (Lincoln Center Theater)

By Harry Forbes

Yes, the title refers to the Babylon line of the Long Island Railroad, not ancient Mesopotamia, in case you were wondering. 

Richard Greenberg’s latest is an uneven but generally entertaining comedy-drama set in 1967 about a creative writing teacher (Josh Radnor) – with only one story of his own published – who commutes from Greenwich Village to Levittown adult education class. 

His motley pupils include three clueless housewives (Randy Graff, Julie Halston, and Maddie Corman), a phobic outsider (Elizabeth Reaser) who hasn’t left her home in years till now, a quiet young man rumored to be mentally damaged by drugs, and a World War II veteran (Frank Wood).

Aaron tries vainly to get his students to bring in writing samples, but resistance is strong. As they gradually open up, their idiosyncrasies and lives are revealed, and in some cases, their imaginations unlocked. Reaser’s character is the first to come up with something, her prose wildly at odds with her seemingly mousy persona, and her fellow pupils are utterly astonished at what they hear.

Reaser especially shines as a would-be seduction scene on a snowy night when she tries to persuade Aaron that as he probably won’t be able to get home, she can instead drive him to a local motel.

Graff, Halston and Corman make a masterful, on the whole, funny bunch, and all have their pearly moments, while Graff doesn’t sugarcoat her character’s ugly intolerance of anything outside her cookie-cutter existence.

Richard Hoover’ sets, Sarah J. Holden’s costumes, David Weiner’s lighting, and Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen’s sound design are all first rate, though the elderly lady next to me opined that the women onstage were dressed far better than Levittown ladies of the 1960s would ever have been. The play was originally produced by New York Stage and Film & Vassar’s Powerhouse Theater in 2014.

Terry Kinney directs with empathy for the material and elicits sharp characterizations from his cast.

 (Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street, Lincoln Center; 800-432-7250 or; through January 22)

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

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