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The Babylon Line

From 32 critic and 138 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Entertaining, Funny, Slow, Disappointing

About the show

Lincoln Center Theatre presents Richard Greenberg's new drama about a writer and the special student who reawakens his artistic impulses. Starring Josh Radnor ('How I Met Your Mother') and Elizabeth Reaser ('Twilight'). More…

Levittown, 1967. It’s the first night of an adult-ed Creative Writing course in a classroom at the local high school. The teacher, Aaron Port (Radnor), lives in Greenwich Village and reverse commutes once a week on the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon line to Wantagh. His students are a mixed bag: Frieda Cohen, Anna Cantor, and Midge Braverman, housewives all, embrace each other on arrival. The two men in the class, Jack Hassenpflug and Marc Adams, keep mostly to themselves. One final student, Joan Dellamond, rushes in late. She is a housewife, but not like the others. Maybe this class will bring her, and Aaron, something that neither quite expects. Playwright Richard Greenberg is the author of numerous Broadway plays including 'Eastern Standard' and the Tony-winning 'Take Me Out.'

Lighting & Sound America

"Greenberg has a knack for creating characters who consistently surprise us without contradicting what we already know about them, and he can spin a narrative that has the richness of a novel...Under Terry Kinney's direction, a fine cast brings this eccentric menagerie to life...Greenberg builds a marvelously complete universe with his characters...For all his irony and wit, Greenberg captures it in its twilight glory." Full Review


"Greenberg is clearly interested in endings, and he gives us a grand one in this thoughtful and sympathetic drama...Director Terry Kinney crafts potentially explosive moments with care and restraint, allowing the tension in the room to build slowly and surely until we are fully invested...Greenberg sacrifices the tragedy of the moment for the comedy of the long perspective — and we are grateful to him for it." Full Review

The Wrap

"Greenberg can’t seem to make up his mind what characters, plot line, or ideas he wants us to follow...Fortunately, his many detours and transgressions work only to keep us riveted...Greenberg and director Terry Kinney know precisely how to deliver and play, respectively, this material...One of the true theatrical pleasures of “The Babylon Line” is its dark playfulness...’The Babylon Line’ has much to say about the nature of creativity and how imagination shapes reality, and vice versa." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"What a beguiling and unpredictable play...While Greenberg could be criticized for being too discursive, that ends up being part of the play's charm, as stories and revelations about each character shed a different light on them...Kinney and his superb cast are attuned to the silent undercurrents of Greenberg's writing as much as the sly flourishes of wit and cruelty and the elegant streams of prose-like dialogue, making 'The Babylon Line' an idiosyncratic pleasure." Full Review


"If you love the way Greenberg writes about the extraordinary twists in ordinary lives — which I obviously do — you will be patient with the leisurely setup...Trust that with this prolific Tony-winning playwright, payoffs are eventually coming, lots of them, and they are worth the wait...Director Terry Kinney treats them at first like gossipy, close-minded cliches. We are meant to underestimate them, but Greenberg and Kinney have more in mind for this first-rate cast." Full Review

Off Off Online

"'The Babylon Line' has abundant wit; but it’s a melancholy wit that is this playwright’s mid-career trademark…Greenberg has a gift for creating clear, distinct characters with elliptical dialogue...In the current production, expertly directed by Steppenwolf veteran Terry Kinney, the playwright’s efforts are enhanced by balanced, insightful performances from the seven cast members and the evocative scenic design and costumes." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"Richard Greenberg has penned yet another fascinating character study...Mr. Greenberg certainly knows how to tell a story - and what a tangled web he does weave way out on the Babylon Line once a week in Levittown!...Tough, tender, interesting, a bit of Long Island history, and a generally magical evening in the theatre. Could Mr. Greenberg nip and tuck in a few scenes, sure. Did it matter? Not very much." Full Review

Jewish Daily Forward

"A funny, smart, gently revelatory play...Terry Kinney’s direction builds mystery and tension...There is real chemistry between Reaser and Radnor. And all the performances are layered and complex...But what shines through most clearly is Greenberg’s witty, carefully structured writing. The character’s stories, while never overcomplicated or confusing, ultimately weave together in ways you don’t see coming...For a play about writing, it’s not so bad to have the script be the star." Full Review


"Richard Greenberg's clever, sentimental and occasionally steamy drama...Played with the right touch of aching restraint in director Terry Kinney's faded memory of a production. Greenberg's choice to include a lengthy 'what happened to then next' epilogue is the only misguided move, especially when points concerning Aaron and Joan get rushed into an ending, but 'The Babylon Line' is still a pleasing excursion with good humor and warm pathos." Full Review


"One of those modest little gems that contains sparks of white light if you look hard enough…This is the kind of unpretentious but thought-provoking play that Lincoln Center always does to perfection…Kinney, who has done terrific work on this show, takes care to keep the chemistry between Aaron and Joan on the boil. But for sheer eccentricity and bittersweet feeling, what really resonates are the lives of all of these characters—especially the secret lives that emerge in their writing." Full Review


"We're never worried the married teacher might end up with the married student — which stalls the narrative engine of the play. Happily, it doesn't much matter, because Greenberg's eloquence and sly wit translate into scenes of biting beauty when the students start reading their writing." Full Review

Entertainment Weekly

"The intimate nature of the small amphitheater-style setup lends itself nicely to Greenberg’s storytelling; when Radnor’s character breaks the fourth wall, it feels like a personal appeal...Aaron's infatuation with Joan feels a little forced — their chemistry doesn’t quite support their near-instant attraction. Luckily, that’s not an issue for the rest of the cast...The quiet, funny script resonates with the evergreen themes of community, desire, and self-discovery. It’s a memorable ride." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"A master wordsmith with a gift for poetic language and a sharp eye for characterization, Greenberg keeps us engrossed during this meandering journey, even if we’re still a bit flummoxed when the proverbial train finally pulls into the station...Greenberg knows the rules so well he feels free to break them, here, eschewing a simple linear plot...It’s amazing the play doesn’t collapse under its own weighty ambitions...Those seeking an easy ride might be better off staying home." Full Review


"Although 'The Babylon Line' is as funny and literate as his previous works, Greenberg seems to be struggling to unite all the separate threads into a smooth whole, awkwardly depending on the central character's breaking the fourth wall. Certainly, the play is populated by well-drawn personalities, but that isn't enough to make it work." Full Review


"It's all overambitious and too diffuse. Yet, Greenberg is still very much at the top of his game as a gifted wordsmith, which means bursts of lyricism as well as characterizing conversations filled with hilarious and stinging comments...The concluding update of how everyone fared over the years feels tacked on...But with Greenberg doing the neatening up, you can't help being glad that you took that train ride to suburbia with him." Full Review

Woman Around Town

"The mostly entertaining show, which features a number of well-drawn, idiosyncratic characters as well as playwright Greenberg’s signature wit, sympathy, and splendid use of language, is riddled with incongruities...Additionally, the piece seems to end two or three times, making the experience bottom heavy and overlong...Director Terry Kinney keeps the piece moving, creating attractive onstage pictures. There is, however, a missed opportunity for small idiosyncrasies." Full Review

Time Out New York

"'The Babylon Line' is by Richard Greenberg; barbed repartee, shiny epigrams, and baroque arias of loss and longing all come with the territory...Director Terry Kinney steers a fine cast to a nice balance of whimsy and wistfulness...It’s the plotting and momentum of the second act in which things grow fuzzy and attenuated...The digressive wrapping up of narrative threads in the last 20 minutes unfolds less like compelling drama and more like dutiful housekeeping." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"Greenberg’s look at a creative writing class in the local adult education program initially shows promise…The first act proceeds smoothly, but after intermission things go seriously off the rails. The second act is overlong and overwrought, burdened with lame gimmicks and false endings…Director Terry Kinney gets tripped up in the second act problems." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"The more the pieces fall into place in Act II...the more entertaining and rewarding 'The Babylon Line' is. It's in the more intimate scenes that Greenberg stumbles and stands in the way of the play's greatness...Ignoring someone for two hours and then showing us in the last 10 minutes how vital they always were is a tricky prospect, and one that Greenberg has not nimbly navigated...The outcome may be worthwhile, but...sticking with these people until you reach it is not easy." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"How then does a playwright turn such creative torpor into a decent yarn? Greenberg’s answer is to add increasingly large doses of eccentricity as the student authors supposedly lay bare their darkest fantasies...Under Kinney’s brisk direction, these anecdotes become plays that the ensemble perform with impressive dexterity...But, for all its cleverness, 'The Babylon Line' suffers from a basic dramatic flaw: both Aaron and Joan’s characters remain frustratingly static throughout its two hours." Full Review

City Cabaret

"Greenberg's expressive characterizations are delivered by a top-notch cast but unfortunately, their stories grow tiresome, leisurely unraveling for almost 2-1/2 hours...Greenberg did an estimable job in finding the depth of these characters with a fast-forward epilogue which makes a fairly satisfying, although tedious, tie-up to the 50-year span framing this play. Unfortunately, while the cast deftly paints portraits of familiarity, the play fails to draw sparks." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Richard Greenberg is a master of word wars. Intelligent, clever word wars!...His arguments are Shakespearean in their verbiage, a heightened emotional state...At the end of the play there were polite applause but we want emotional connections–especially when there is so much promise. Emotionally we were left stranded on the boarding platform, hoping for another train to come our way." Full Review

Village Voice

"One of Greenberg's less fulfilling, a semi-mishap, the mind-troubling aspects of which give out only faint rewards. Yet as it travels in its odd, meandering, unsatisfactory way, it stirs up some genuinely intriguing ideas. It also gives opportunities for a clutch of fine performances…'The Babylon Line' bulges in odd places, seems to stall in others, and tends to feel alternately as if nothing were happening and too much had been crammed in." Full Review

Theatre Reviews by John Clum

"‘The Babylon Line’ is an enjoyable, though flawed, play superbly acted…The classroom scenes are very well written…Yet, as usual with Greenberg's plays, ‘The Babylon Line’ desperately needs editing. Aaron's character is little more than a cipher, yet he narrates the play and functions as its central character…Josh Radnor has to hold his part and the play together by the force of his own personality…‘The Babylon Line’ has some fine moments but doesn't totally cohere." Full Review

Daily Beast

"Greenberg has a beautiful way with language and a track-record of strong and interesting plays, so it’s disappointing to see him resort to suburban caricatures that have been done and overdone. There should also be a moratorium on all plays and stories set in creative writing classes. It’s a tired device...'The Babylon Line' has lyrical writing and strong performances by Radnor and Reaser. But like the train line it’s named after, the show ultimately needs a more inspiring destination." Full Review

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if you enjoy plays with multiple narratives, that are each resonant and incredibly entertaining. Theatre at its finest / classic R. Greenberg.

Don't see it if you prefer more shallow theatre. The plot is certainly not light, and it requires your utmost concentration.

Also The entire cast is beyond wonderful, but Randy Graff is, simply put, p... Read more Read less

Cliched, Funny, Entertaining

See it if You grew up in New York, especially Long Island

Don't see it if You don't like plays

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great acting, Funny, Edgy

See it if you want to be entranced by a smart, small little show. You love HIMYM and want to see Ted Mosby onstage.

Don't see it if You crave spectacle or you're one of those types averse to stories about writers.

Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Funny

See it if you want to see an expertly written play with a spectacular performance from Elizabeth Reaser. The whole cast is also great.

Don't see it if you don't like plays. You only like happy endings and fantasy.

Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Funny, Quirky

See it if You like a good story with some funny moments and some sad, a relatable story but told in a new way. You enjoy great actors & characters.

Don't see it if You don't want suburban stories & you want simple, light plots with all happy endings. You want to see theater but not think about it after.

Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if Good drama,tragic-comedy Lived in Levittown LI in the 60's

Don't see it if Not interested in serious drama. Are put off by stereotypes of 3 yenta housewifes in Suburbia.

Absorbing, Great acting, Refreshing, Funny

See it if Entire cast stellar, but Ms Reaser's intensely disturbing performance is why this is a dontmiss. And often the writing is sublime literature

Don't see it if you can't abide long character-driven theater - this is a single-setting plot-scanty work joyous only for the characters and quirky scenario

Ambitious, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great staging

See it if The suburban middle class gathering setup belies the rich character studies created by Greenberg and imaginative staging by Kinney

Don't see it if <spoiler> there is a line that suggests a link to another Greenberg play - the thought of a trilogy took me out for 1 minute

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Ambitious, Nice costumes and set

See it if You want to see excellent acting in a play taking place in Long Island in 1967.

Don't see it if You'd prefer to see a musical. This is an entertaining play but quiet at times and serious. Lots of laughs too though!

Also The play takes place in Levittown, Long Island in 1967 in an adult ed ... Read more Read less

Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining, Refreshing

See it if Enjoy a fun and great writing.

Don't see it if Are looking for a big musical

Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting

See it if you want to stroll down memory lane to adult ed. ( teacher or student, it's all funny).

Don't see it if you don't have the patience for educational nostalgia.

Absorbing, Funny, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you're ready for a great, interesting story.

Don't see it if not sure. I really liked it!

Thought-provoking, Funny, Cliched, Entertaining

See it if You like Richard Greenberg. You appreciate Julie Halston. You wonder about life in a community like Levittown. Surprise circular ending.

Don't see it if You have to pay full price. You appreciate more high minded theater.

Thought-provoking, Quirky, Entertaining, Confusing

See it if you want to see a play with an unusual structure with a message that can be interpreted in several ways

Don't see it if you don't want to be challenged as a theatergoer

Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Absorbing

See it if A nostalgic look back at a certain place in time from Long Island. Randy Graffand Frank Wood steal the show. Funny.

Don't see it if If you're not familiar with LI in the '60s, you might not get the references. I found Elizabeth Reaser annoying.

Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Entertaining, Clever

See it if You want to see great acting in a well-crafted, character play. You enjoy slice-of-life dramas.

Don't see it if You want a play with a lot of action or that has a big event.

Thought-provoking, Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing, Resonant

See it if you enjoy a play that gives you a glimpse at its characters in a particular setting and moment in time.

Don't see it if you would be bothered if most of a play's action is in its language rather than its staging.

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Quirky

See it if you: like comedies that poke fun at pretentious academics & suburbanites; like Josh Radnor, enjoy Jewish-themed jokes, like light comedy.

Don't see it if you are offended by caricatures of Jewish Long Island matrons & academics, don't like comedies with a narrator, don't like Josh Radnor.

Quirky, Entertaining, Funny, Absorbing, Intelligent

See it if You can relate to people who use creative writing as a mirror to their souls, in a well done show about their interactions with each other.

Don't see it if You are looking for a musical and the premise doesn't spark an interest.

Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Great writing, Indulgent

See it if enjoy funny repartee from a seasoned playwright delivered by a well directed cast

Don't see it if you don't care for trite references to literature delivered by a cast telling a fable

Intelligent, Entertaining, Slow, Indulgent, Great acting

See it if You like plays where nothing really happens, the cast is excellent.

Don't see it if It gave me a sense of half (the three women friends) of the cast being bullied by the other half. I found the second half moved faster.

Also Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Reasoner were very good.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Entertaining

See it if you like: Josh Radnor (who is excellent); 1960's period pieces; well acted comedy dramas; and if you or your parents lived thru this era.

Don't see it if you don't like: ethnic comedies or stories about Long Island or the 1960's; non-linear dramas.

Entertaining, Great acting

See it if Top notch actors playing students in the adult writing class in Long Island. See their quirks & how they get along with each other.

Don't see it if Last 30 minutes has "dream sequence" alternate ending which is confusing and meanders. Cut the last 30 minutes. Show runs 2 hours 20 min.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You like plays by Richard Greenberg. You love Randy Graff and Julie Halston.

Don't see it if You don't like dramas written with little puzzle pieces you have to connect together. It takes concentration and work.

Also I certainly was never bored and the cast is really wonderful. Josh Rad... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Entertaining, Edgy, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy really good acting and Richard Greenberg's writing.

Don't see it if N/A

Cast & Creatives (16)