'Babel' collapses under its own weight

I was thinking about the term "half-baked" while watching Babel, the latest piece from Nimbus Theatre. More often than not, it means something that's off kilter. But it also seems that there's a more literal meaning, that whatever you are watching isn't quite done.

Both of these definitions apply to Josh Cragun's new work about a fantastical, possibly infinite library, an order of librarian monks, the chance of immortality, and the fall of the tower of Babel. It's a decidedly crazy undertaking where the ideas often outstrip the story, and it's a piece that probably needed some more time in the kitchen before being served.

The story centers on the librarian monks, specifically a pair of new initiates who were the top of their respective classes and have now been assigned their home "hexagons," chambers packed to the rafters with books. The two eventually discover that there are secrets within secrets in the vast expanse of their library world. With some heavy thinking and a dash of adventure, they uncover those secrets.

This takes them deep into the history of their home, which is connected to the other key storyline, that of the building and destruction of the Tower of Babel. This comes across as a sort-of modern parable, as the characters may be ancient Sumerians, but they act like modern-day folks, all the way down to the self-satisfied tone that if they haven't conquered a problem that means they just haven't tried hard enough.

Again, there's a lot going on in both of these worlds, and Cragun (also the director) works hard to mold it into something compelling. While the material mostly moves along at a good pace (though the Babel scenes drag on and on with details that never pay off) it's obvious that the script needed another set of eyes (at least) to tighten the action. There's a lot of repetition in the slow build during the first act that could have been trimmed without losing any of the play's rich environment.

A better company of actors would have helped this along as well. Some of the basics, like knowing your lines and cues, were missing Thursday night, even though the show has already been up and running for a week. Beyond that, the characters never moved beyond stock, as if they had built this fantastic world but forgot to put actual people in it.

On the upside, Zach Morgan's multifaceted set is a sight to behold, transforming between different chambers in the library and, in one of the show's highlights, the brighter world of Sumeria for our flashback. The actual set changes were fraught with a lot of noise as the pieces were rearranged, dragging the audience out of the spell that Cragun and the company were trying to create.

That spell, a sense of being transported to another place, happened on occasion in Babel, and those moments showcased what this wild, sometimes engaging, sometimes boring, mess of a show could be.


Nimbus Theater
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Through March 25
For information, call 612.548.1379 or visit online
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The Nimbus Theater

1517 Central Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413



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