Review: Redtwist’s Babel Explores the Pursuit of Human Perfection
Survival of the fittest means that a species that adapts to its environment will be the best suited to reproduce—aka Darwinism. Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger’s Babel presents a dystopian view of the fittest. It is a disturbing play that has some truth to it in the present day as we see politicians and those in power looking to solve society’s many ills. Violence, infirmity, and disorders of the body and the mind—including racism and homophobia—are considered imperfections in Babel. The medical profession and the government vigorously test anyone who wants to have a child and certify the pregnancy as viable to be part of the new society.
The play opens with Renee (Monique Marshaun) going through yoga poses and clicking her tongue in between each pose. Renee appears to be upset and emotional when her partner Dani (Shannon Leigh Webber) arrives home. Renee is concerned that her pregnancy was not certified by the doctor. The prenatal testing shows an anomaly that would exclude the child from the new society. Renee is given a choice to terminate the pregnancy but she and Dani have been trying for a long time to have a viable embryo. Marshaun is superb in this role and has great chemistry with Leigh Webber and then segues into horror as the government intrudes on her daily life.
Renee and Dani are friends with another couple who are also pregnant and going through the certification process. Michael Sherwin plays the husband Jamie and Soleil Pérez plays his vulnerable and easily frightened wife Ann. A standout scene between Pérez and Leigh Webber reveals a sinister side to Dani as she accuses Ann of trying to steal her job. It is rare to hear an offer of a refill of coffee sound that ominous. Ann descends into paranoia and obsessiveness about the perfection of the baby she and Jamie are having.
Renee is also succumbing to paranoia and clicking sounds that turn out to be the Stork (Michael Sherwin). Goldfinger cleverly inserts dark humor, giving the Stork an abrasive manner that is nothing like the kindly storks in cartoons. He carries castanets and clicks them to make the sound of a weapon punctuating his dialogue. Interestingly, Stork’s head resembles the masks that doctors wore during the Bubonic Plague. The society being depicted is a plague of eugenics weeding the humanity out of people.
Director Rinska Carrasco-Prestinary skillfully keeps the entwined stories on track. There is a rhythm to the movements of the characters as if they are the figures in a glockenspiel clock. They move in a straight line and turn at sharp angles. Are they cyborgs being controlled by AI? The revelations in the second act left that thought in my mind along with other theories that aren’t as outlandish as they were 10 years ago. Artificial wombs are a reality, breeding for eye color and intellect has been in play for some time with discriminating donor selection.
There are some shocking elements to this play that I will not reveal. Babel is shocking because so much is true. Genetic selection and breeding have been around for centuries: In America, the subjugation of slavery and the breeding of humans like cattle for labor and in Germany, the horrific toll of the Holocaust in efforts to create the ideal Aryan race. I highly recommend Babel for the great writing that blends suspense and dark humor. The direction is crisp without being dragged down by the heavy subject matter. A special shout-out to the costume designer Kathleen Gardin for the Stork.
Babel runs 95 minutes with no intermission. The show plays through April 30, at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. in Edgewater. Babel is a return to performing for Redtwist after the pandemic. They require that audience members wear m,asks to protect the performers and audience members. For more information and tickets, please visit www.RedTwistTheatre.org.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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