Review: BABBITT at La Jolla Playhouse

Playing through December 10th

By: Nov. 15, 2023
Review: BABBITT at La Jolla Playhouse

Is anyone really allowed to break free of the expectations and conformity that society expects of them? What happens when we look past ideological rhetoric and instead at the people benefiting from and being impacted by those positions of power?  BABBITT, the world premiere adaption by Joe DiPietro of the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis brings the satirical struggle of the modern, middle-class man to the stage through December 10th at the La Jolla Playhouse.

The elusive American dream promises that if you just conform to the ideals as prescribed by society, then you will have a happy life with the kids, the wife, and the picket fence.  George F. Babbitt (Matthew Broderick) is one of those believers, who was an impassioned orator in college and dreamt of being a lawyer and helping those who needed it. We find him now as a middle-aged father, who has built a life with all the material trappings of a life well lived, including an alarm clock with a phosphorus dial, and a 2 slice toaster.  

He is proud of his life and thinks that by living as society deems it, he is helping the world run more smoothly.  It’s those who want to challenge the social norm that are the real troublemakers.  Babbitt may seem mild-mannered but he’s not above fleecing prospective renters in painting over water damage instead of fixing it, but it’s how society works so it’s all fair game.

 He loves his family,  wife Myra (Ann Harada), teenage son Ted (Chris Myers), and daughter Tinka (Anna Chlumsky) yet, Babbitt realizes that his life up until now has amounted to absolutely nothing.  So he vows to break out of this myopic vision of domestic bliss and societal success and writes a speech to express his views on their hometown and the upcoming mayoral election.

Against all odds, he somehow gains momentum, and as he ascends in popularity by speaking against unions, the dangers of reading, and teaching critical thinking in school, he is even more sure that he and his way of life are right.

Review: BABBITT at La Jolla Playhouse

Babbitt’s best friend Paul (Francis Jue) delivers the main blows to his surety, as his actions on a trip and later with his wife Zilla, make George rethink his opinion and blind faith in everything and everyone he once thought was true. 

Meanwhile, George’s Myra (Harada) and son Ted (Myers) are on their own paths of what they want out of life. As their journeys take them out of George’s sphere of influence all three find out more about themselves and how they want to live their lives. 

The ensemble, which also includes Genevieve Angelson, Jalen Davidson, Iris Liting Feng, Victor Flores, Julie Halston, Kya Lee, Linda Libby, and Matt McGrath, plays a variety of characters throughout the story as they come and go, challenging George and his engrained ideas of what is right, what is wrong, and how people should live their lives.

Broderick's Babbitt is a thoughtful performance, first as the semi-defeated everyman into a more confident and funny free thinker, and then as a man who is faced with making a choice of which life to pursue.  His physicality ranges from a more paced speech pattern and slumped shoulders, to energetic dance moves and hanging out with a younger crowd, his transformation is a subtle emerging that is effective and funny. 

Review: BABBITT at La Jolla Playhouse

Harada is lovely as the frustrated Myra, who longs for a life beyond the monotonous emotional labor of keeping house, making meals, and minding the kids without any real support from her husband.  Myers as son Ted does not envision his life the way George has planned it for him and brings a needed youthful fire to George's complacency.

The entire ensemble is talented bringing multiple characters to life and also guiding the audience as the story unfolds. Chlumsky shines as the society wife Mrs. Mckelvey who cannot hide her reactions at a dinner party gone wrong, especially once the inebriated neighborhood poet (a delightful Julie Halston)) starts reciting her original works.

Directed by Christopher Ashley, this play has a deliberate and quiet pace in telling the play written by Joe DiPietro.  The adaption is remarkable considering the novel is about 400 pages long, and finds many moments of humor and heart throughout.

The set design by Walt Spangler is gorgeous as a two-story all-white library, where the pops of color come from the book spines along the shelves.  The lighting design by Cha See is equally stunning, as the lighting and colors fill the background and play along with the slightly reflective white surfaces of the set.  The costume design by Linda Cho is both contemporary and period-appropriate and allows many character quick changes with smaller costume additions.  Original music by Mark Bennett and Wayne Baker, along with sound design by Leon Rothenberg completes this world.

The source material by Sinclair Lewis is over 100 years old, and yet the story shows that society has long been tackling or turning a blind eye to problems like politics, sexism, the idea that those of “moral” superiority should shape society, and more are really the same song in a different tune. 

It’s no accident this play starts in the modern age in a library, where the patrons are discovering and telling the story of George Babbitt.  Libraries hold a place of power, with knowledge available to all, and can help people learn about many things beyond their own bubble of experience that helps them choose to forge their own story.

BABBITT strives to show that it's the choices, challenges, and compromises we make that truly impact the world we leave behind for those we love.   

How To Get Tickets

BABBIT is playing at the La Jolla Playhouse through December 10th.  For ticket and showtime information go to 

Photo Credit: Jenna Selby

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