Ghetto Babylon

Theater, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ghetto Babylon. 59E59 (see Off Broadway). By Michael Mejias. Directed by Gregory Simmons. With ensemble cast. Running time 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.

Ghetto Babylon: in brief

Michael Mejias's coming-of-age tale, set in the South Bronx in 1982, returns after a brief 2011 run at the SoHo Playhouse. Gregory Simmons once again directs for Dramatic Question Theatre.

Ghetto Babylon: theater review by Helen Shaw

Michael Mejias’s coming-of-age Bronx tale, Ghetto Babylon, may have trouble on its follow-through, but man, it has a beautiful windup. A terrific opening scene flings us back to August, 1982, dropping us in the very center of a steaming, summertime baseball diamond. Fourteen-year-old Charlie Rosa (Alejandro Rodriguez) paces on the pitcher’s mound while best friend Spec (Sean Caravajal) and cousin Felix (Malik Ali) heckle from the outfield. As Charlie gives us the play-by-play, our hearts are in our mouths—even before he faces his true crisis: Should he escape the increasingly dangerous projects for a fancy New England school or stay home and take his team to the Bronx-wide championship?

It’s a testament to this first scene, and to the central threesome’s ebullient teenage camaraderie, that we studiously ignore the predictable, even sentimental narrative. Mejias worships the word-as-it-is-read in a way that hampers theatrical storytelling: Unpruned letter-writing scenes and a visitation from the fictional Catcher in the Rye are rookie mistakes, and—thinking like a reader rather than a playwright—he fouls his climax with a poorly timed blackout. The hours still pass by swiftly, since Mejias has so much else on the ball, like poetic language (“Yesterday be yesterday; today be today”) and a deft comic touch. Director Gregory Simmons steers a confident, bare-bones production (with spot-on period props), though in places he seems thrown off balance by his uneven cast. Luckily, they are led by the steady-handed Rodriguez—and it only takes one player to elevate everybody’s game.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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