The Babylon Line by Richard Greenberg
The opening lines of this play hooked me instantly. The perspective that is found in those lines is interesting and builds the suspense for the entire play. While they were initially engaging, I found that throughout the play it began to lose steam. The play is about a teacher of adult education, Aaron, who begins teaching in Levittown and whose lessons encourage the students to share moments from their lives. One student in particular uses these sessions to excise old wounds and her stories cause massive waves within the community.
The time period and conversations of the students displays their opinions on motherhood and family. Their notions of public and private motivate the actions and secrets within their community. Inside the classroom, the place of most scenes, is where the dirty laundry is aired. The audience sees only snapshots of the student’s lives, gathering information about their past and learning about each’s futures, as narrated by Aaron. Aaron’s two perspectives, both in the past (as he interprets events) and in the present as he narrates to us, comments on the implications and effects of his actions.
Upon finishing the play, one has to reflect on all of the writing lessons Aaron imparts onto his students and cannot stop from questioning the perspective of Aaron. All in all this was an introspective play that displayed a series of brief images of the community (who live on the Babylon Line) and how one incident can expose people and their lives. The characters are unique and have promising backstories, but I wish I knew more about certain characters and that they had more depth. Additionally the ending was surprising and I think my feelings and interpretation of the play would really benefit from some sort of reading group.
This type of writing is not normally what I read and the format, a play, is something I really never read for fun. The Babylon Line is an interesting story that lends itself to a play format, and I could just imagine it being performed as I was reading it. As for the progression of the story, I felt that towards the end of the second act the action sort of snowballed and things were occurring much faster than before. We are all, to some degrees, creatures of habit so it was an excellent learning experience (as a former teacher of mine used to say about our tests) to go out of my comfort zone. Overall I can appreciate the merits of this play, the way it seems to take its own advice, and Joan’s journey. However on a personal level, this play was not engaging after the beginning. I never felt like I had to pick it up again and the flow of reading felt a little stop and start (maybe if I saw it as an actual play this would not have been so drastic). I am glad I was able to challenge my reading tendencies, but, unfortunately, I am not sure that this deviation is a hit, in my opinion. I see the promise and the merits in the play, but it never seemed to actualize into something. I hate leaving things on a sour note, so I would suggest you form your own opinion, especially if you do enjoy plays and little snippets of suburban housewives lives.
Book cover image from here.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from First to Read.
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