You can't accuse Josh Cragun of thinking small with his latest work, Babel, opening this week at Nimbus. It's set in a seemingly endless library, with secret societies, ties to some of humankind's earliest legends, and inspiration from one of the 20th century's greatest authors.
"The origins of the story ultimately go back to a short story by Jorge Luis Borges entitled 'The Library of Babel,' combined with an interest in the ancient legends regarding the tower and, in general, with the tension between the dangers of hubris and the value of the pursuit of knowledge," says Cragun, who is going through through final preparations with the show before Saturday's opening night.
"I've always been drawn to the way in which a Borges story unfolds. A Borges short story is often like a mystery of ideas. At the core of the story is an interesting, fascinating thought, a metaphysical riddle or jewel, and he slowly unwraps it in a way that beckons the reader in at every turn. I also like his fascination with the arcane, the unspoken, the appeal of discovery that is at the heart of our drive for greater understanding," he adds.
Cragun also looked to the ancient myths and legends surrounding the Tower of Babel to build his story.
"I've been fascinated for some time with the parable of the Tower of Babel and the various ancient accounts of the story. I find this juxtaposition interesting. On one hand, there's the benefit of learning and understanding our world, and on the other, the danger of letting that knowledge go to our heads. As an artist, a creator, I find the topic of hubris particularly important," Cragun sats. "Ultimately, we looked to create a new work that used these sources, and others -- such as the secret societies that draw the Temple of Solomon as their source, the Biblical accounts of the tower, and the mass of information that is the world in which we live in now -- as inspiration for a world that would exist unto itself."
It's a play that has been in the works for several years, but has taken shape in the past six months as Cragun has collaborated with the cast to find the final shape of the piece.
"I am coming, more and more through the years, to believe that the best way to create new work is to have the author work with the team of actors and designers and directors in a collaborative environment, and to allow at all times lines between roles to be a little fluid. Theater is such a collaborative art that leaving the author to their own devices while everyone else works so closely together seems counter-intuitive," he says. "I think it has more to do with fit and feedback ultimately. It's like the difference between a tailored garment and one bought at a department store. The overall look may not change, but the way it matches the wearer's body, the way it moves, will be superior."
While the story may be ancient, it certainly resonates today. "The idea of information overload is at the core of the situation the inhabitants find themselves in at the beginning of the narrative: A library so vast, filled with so much information that the inhabitants no longer find the books informative, but confusing and mysterious," he says.
IF YOU GO
Nimbus Theater 1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Saturday through March 25
For information, call 612.548.1380 or visit online