BWW Review: BABEL at Unicorn Theatre
The World Premier engagement of Jacqueline Goldfinger's BABEL (as part of the National New Play Network) is enjoying its first, fully realized production at Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre in Midtown. BABEL is a fascinating, at times funny, and at times terrifying vision of a future that may not be very far off. The questions it poses do not unreasonably stretch technology and human impacts. The Unicorn Production is the first of a handful of scheduled BABELs already primed for 2020 and 2021.
BABEL envisions a time when voters have acceded to a referendum. The agreement requires that all prospective parenting couples be certified free of disqualifying DNA sequences. All embryos would be tested in utero against the possibility of genetic defects, susceptibility to disease, mental instability, or future systemic breakdown. Once certified, the growing child will continue to be tested and re-certified acceptable citizen material at intervals or be automatically tracked to second class status.
Why would any population agree to such a Draconian proposition? Is it far fetched that a world with finite supplies of water, limited arable land, food shortages, a changing climate, and a geometrically expanding population might want to stretch limited resources? Might it become suddenly rational to terminate genetically flawed members of society prior to birth?
Is such a thing even possible? Not only has DNA resequencing made it possible, but we are witnessing the first effects come true for good or ill. Many of us have already voluntarily paid to submit our DNA to huge international data bases in a search for distant relatives and/or ancestors. Law enforcement is already using this information pooling to solve long ago cold cases by rifling through our individual genome segments. Science compares histories and sequences for commonalities.
Might the genetic possibility of future criminal behavior action encourage authorities to short circuit what might happen? How far is all this from the designer babies sought by Joseph Mengele in his Auschwitz experimentation on twins eighty years ago? Will the criminal behavior of a recently jailed Chinese physician, He Jiankui, who used CRISPR to edit DNA and create designer infants become commonplace?
Every day, new understandings of misplaced and identic genetic markers alert scientists to the probability of future treatments and causal relationships. Many women today opt for double mastectomies rather than chance Cancer tomorrow. Will mankind use this new knowledge to cure disease or eliminate the possibility of affliction from the genome? Will individuals with a family history of heart disease, autism, ADHD, Down's syndrome, Cancer, mental illness, blindness, or dozens of other challenges be allowed to come into existence?
The above are just a few questions posed as corollaries to Ms. Goldfinger's newest work. Many of man's finest composers, artists, scientists, and thinkers were also challenged people in some ways. Will the most outstanding destined among us be wiped from our futures because DNA sequences deviate from an accepted norm?
In Ms. Goldfinger's play, a doubly-certified lesbian couple produce a potentially flawed embryo while a singly- certified heterosexual couple produce a perfect progeny. Authorities have also attained the ability to implant virtual avatars in people's minds who encourage real world actions like the termination of societally undesirable babies to be. It isn't all predictable science and that is the point being made albeit with a sense of humor and a bow to the absurd. The most outstanding among us may not have the ability to buck the system without breaking under the pressure. The most human of us may find a way to rise above the pressure. In a way, I am reminded of many of Rod Serling's twisted Twilight Zone endings. The Zone this time, however, may not be as far distant as it was in Serling's time.
The brave cast for this jaunt into a possible tomorrow is Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, Jake Walker in a dual role, Katie Gilchrist, and Amy O'Connor. The imagination of Director Ian R. Crawford and playwright Goldfinger share a flawed, but all too possible future. The Unicorn technical staff has produced a setting and change scheme equal to the production being brought to life. Attention to detail in all aspects of this premiere effort is remarkable and extra laudable.
Tickets for BABEL through February 9 are available on the Unicorn website, at the box office or by telephone at 816.531.7529. Thought provoking, but probably not suitable for the youngest audience members.
Photos courtesy of Unicorn Theatre.