Rich ideas emerge, slowly, in 'Babel'

  • Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to theStar Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2012 - 5:26 PM

REVIEW: "Babel" has fascinating things to say about human knowledge, but it takes its sweet time saying them.

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Andrew Gullikson, Paul Schoenack and Kara Davidson in "Babel."

It's ironic that hubris is the theme of Josh Cragun's "Babel," currently running at Nimbus Theatre, because the play itself ultimately falls victim to it. At almost three hours long, Cragun demonstrates a courageous ambition, and, while his reach exceeds his grasp, the richness of his ideas are consistently engaging.

"Babel" proves the old adage that a playwright should not direct his own work -- or a director shouldn't write his own plays. Cragun would have done well with an additional perspective. With some serious editing, a great play could be sculpted from this material.

There are actually three stories of hubris at work here. After the failure of the Tower of Babel, the Architect created a vast library run by a monastic Order of Librarians. Two initiates search for the center of the library, the catalog of catalogs -- the secrets of the Universe.

In an almost act-long flashback, Cragun tells the Tower of Babel myth. Then, back in the present, he adds another plot about the search for immortality.

Too often, I found myself ahead of the story. Things that were supposed to be surprises were easily anticipated, a result of both the drawn-out storytelling and an overly deliberate pace.

Zach Morgan's set design is amazing. A series of massive floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are continually reconfigured to create various locations in the library and give a sense of the infinite, maze-like institution.

The execution of the set changes was disappointing, because the moving pieces were inordinately loud. The changes were supposed to be accompanied by the chanting of words and definitions, but this was frequently covered by the din.

As the two initiates, Andrew Gullikson and Kara Davidson carry the emotional weight of the mythology and invest it with heart and truth. Paul Schoenack, as the Architect, has the charisma to carry off his lengthy storytelling duties.

As the primary librarians, mentors to the initiates, Jeffrey Goodson and Anna Sutheim imbue a sense of mystery to this ritualistic world where knowledge is the true religion.

In a Wildean turn of phrase, a character says, "A quick wit can make up for ignorance." This play is not ignorant, but its wit does make up for many of its excesses, and the time passes remarkably quickly.

  • BABEL

    What: Written and directed by Josh Cragun.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. and 7:30 Mon. March 12. Ends March 25.

    Where: Nimbus Theater, 1517 Central Av. NE., Mpls.

    Tickets: $10-$15, 612-548-1380, or www.nimbustheatre.com.

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