Is there a place in the theater for a play that is not a blockbuster, is cast with stars, has critics raving and tickets unavailable? Actually, yes. This past week, after we saw a blockbuster on Broadway (in previews) — “The Present” — the next evening we attended what might be categorized by a “well” play — well-acted, well-written and well-received by the audience, but with little critical acclaim — “The Babylon Line” at Lincoln Center Theater.
“The Present” originated in Australia featuring uberstar Cate Blanchett and her frequent co-star, the superb Richard Roxburgh. It was adapted from Chekhov’s first play and transported in time to post-Glasnost Russia. For three hours, we watched wonderful acting by the stars and the entire ensemble. What was missing was any emotional transfer from the stage to the audience, or at least to me. Lots of dysfunctional people, lots of sex, and LOTS of vodka drinking. And even several attention-getting pistol shots at the end (remember, it’s Chekhov) with real blanks (an oxymoron?). But who cared? Dissolute characters devoid of any reality. It’ll probably win a bunch of Tonys.
“The Babylon Line” is set somewhere different — Levittown, Long Island, 1967. A creative writing class for adults. Playwright Richard Greenberg (Tony winner, “Take Me Out”) has a pitch-perfect ear for this generation, as well as for the creative-writing-class piñata. The six parts are perfectly cast, the dialog rings true, and it’s a delight to watch. Forget the weak reviews. It stimulated and delighted us. And not even a drop of vodka.