Philadelphia playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger was pregnant with her twins when a prenatal test came back with a little bit of an odd result. Everyone’s fine now — the twins are 7 — but the episode, along with the research Goldfinger did at the time, eventually gave birth to her new play, Babel.
It’s having its Philadelphia premiere Feb. 13 through March 8 at Theatre Exile.
Babel tells the story of two couples, one a lesbian couple, one a straight couple, who receive the results of prenatal tests and then wrestle with decisions.
They do get some assistance from a “talking stork who wants to be a
stand-up comedian,” Goldfinger said. “He gives his insight because he
has carried so many babies.”
Goldfinger’s play gets into the ethics of reproductive technology,
which can be uncharted territory here in the U.S. “It’s scary,” she
said. In Europe, there are already protocols about what is ethical, but
not so here. “We’re going to be the testing grounds for many of these
“That’s what’s wonderful about theater,” said Goldfinger, a rising star
nationally. “We can take these huge terrifying ideas and put them into
active stories that make you laugh and also make you think.”
Read the full article from The Philadelphia Inquirer by Jane M. Von Bergen here.
“From oft forgotten or unheard sides of history, to powerfully resonant stories of today, this season in particular looks at life from myriad perspectives, and allows our audiences the opportunity to view the world through a different lens,” artistic director Mark Clements said in a statement.
The season will open with My Way: A Musical Tribune to Frank Sinatra
(Sept. 11-Nov. 8), created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with a book
by Olson. Directed by Kelley Faulkner, the musical will feature the
greatest hits from Sinatra’s five-decade career.
Next up will be Titanic the Musical (Sept. 15-Oct. 25), with
a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, a musical
retelling of the stories of those aboard the fateful ship. Clements will
Following will be the co-world premiere of Meghan Brown’s The Tasters
(Sept. 22-Nov. 1). Tasters have the important job of protecting
high-ranking government officials from assassination attempts by serving
as food tasters. The system is thrown off when one taster goes on a
hunger strike. Laura Braza will direct.
The season will continue with an adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express (Nov. 10-Dec. 13), adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Detective Hercule Poirot must battle the clock to solve a murder on a train full of suspects who all have a motive and an alibi.
Next will be a musical comedy from Matt Zembrowski, Dad’s Season Tickets (Nov. 13-Jan. 17). Directed by Ryan Quinn, the musical asks the simple question: Who will inherit Frank’s prized season ticket at Lambeau Field?
TEXAS INSTITUTE OF LETTERS ANNOUNCES NINETEEN DISTINGUISHED WRITERS
TO BE INDUCTED
For the 84th
year,members of the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) have decided on
the induction of new members to join the ranks of the distinguished
society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize
distinctive literary achievement.
TIL’s membership consists of the state’s most respected writers –
including winners of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award,
PEN/Faulkner Award, Academy Award,
Americas Award, International Latino Book Award, and the MacArthur
“Genius” grant. Membership is based on ongoing and exceptional literary
accomplishment. Members of the Texas Institute of Letters have
overwhelmingly approved nineteen writers to join the
ranks of the TIL.
The 2020 honorees include poets Cyrus Cassells, ir’ene lara silva, Emmy Pérez, and Loretta Diane Walker; award-winning playwrights Octavio Solis and Regina Taylor(also a Golden Globe winner); novelists Glenn Blake, Kathleen Kent, and Natalia Sylvester; bestselling journalists/editors/publishers Nate Blakeslee, Dan Goodgame, and Dan Williams; award-winning songwriters James McMurtry and Robert Earl Keen; environmental writer and editor Andrew Sansom; scholars Andrew R. Graybill and Emma M. Pérez; children’s and YA author J.B. (Jessica) Powers; and photo-historian of award-winning Southwestern cultural histories Bill Wright.
Carmen Tafolla, President of the Texas Institute of Letters states,
“The move to diversify and include a wide variety of literary genres in
our analysis of literary
accomplishment has continued to bring us a rich base of outstanding
word-crafters. We are extremely proud of the exceptional work these
individuals represent. These nineteen literary masters and innovators
span the creative gamut from stage plays to song lyrics
and from novels to poetry, journalism, short stories, publishing,
children’s works, and scholarly books.”
Commissioned by National New Play Network, Jacqueline Goldfinger’s BABEL comes to Theatre Exile in a couple weeks as part of a rolling world premiere with five other theaters across the country. The winner of the Smith Prize for Political Theater, the latest play by one of Philadelphia’s best-regarded playwrights tackles the moral questions behind modern eugenics and asks how far we will go when playing God? Phindie talked to Jackie about the themes and inspirations behind her new work.
Phindie: What inspired BABEL?
Jacqueline Goldfinger: When I was pregnant with the
twins, we had some odd test results and had to do additional testing.
While, thankfully, the kids turned out to be fine, the additional
testing opened our eyes to the wide, and sometimes shady, world of
reproductive technologies. I thought, this would make a great play! And
then I had twins. And I spent the next five years raising twins. So it
wasn’t until they began kindergarten that I was able to sit down,
research properly, and write the play.
Phindie: Why is it called BABEL?
Jacqueline Goldfinger: The title BABEL is taken from
the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel; where humans tried to climb
close to God in order to rule the world. Spoiler Alert: The attempt
failed. The tower and the people climbing came crashing down. And God
split the community into factions that eventually began warring with
each other. Much like the Tower of Babel, reproductive technology is
reaching towards God by trying to control everything from hair and the
color to attempting to sequence and define genes. What will happen as we
reach? Will will rise? Will we fall? Who will we allow to play God to
Phindie: How challenging was it to explore moral questions around eugenics within a narrative play?
Jacqueline Goldfinger: There are so many moral and
ethical questions around eugenics that I needed to narrow the scope of
the conversation in order to create a compelling story that engaged
with, but was not overwhelmed by, the intellectual issues at hand. So, I
narrowed the conversation to one procedure that will be available in
the future, which is in utero genetic testing. By narrowing the scope of
the eugenics conversation, I could really have two pregnant couples
wrestling with the specifics of genetic testing results for their
babies—and also dive into the bigger questions, like, even if you know
what each gene can do, you don’t know what it will do, which will
predominate. What do we do with folks who have a predisposition to, say,
extreme violence? Do we regulate how they live, just to be safe, to
make sure they can’t hurt anyone? But what if they wouldn’t hurt anyone?
Can we judge and regulate people’s behavior based on what might happen?
The play doesn’t necessarily answer all of these big questions,
although we do follow a complete story with the couples. But the play
does encourage the audience to think about these questions for
themselves – because we are going to face them, sooner rather than
Actors Frank Nardi, Jr. and Bi Jean Ngo in rehearsal for the production of BABEL at Theatre Exile.
Phindie: BABEL is being produced across the country and
won the Smith Prize for Political Theater. How do you, personally, judge
success as a playwright?
Jacqueline Goldfinger: My metric for judging success
as a playwright is, do I reach the audience? Do I make them laugh, cry,
think, hope, dream… in all the right places? With this play, folks seem
to be enjoying the balance between comedy—like, ya’ know, a six foot
talking stork who wants to be a stand-up comedian—and the harder,
serious questions of the play.
Phindie: What would you like the audience to take from seeing the play?
Jacqueline Goldfinger: First, I hope they are
entertained. While the play does tackle serious issues, it also embraces
love, hope, dreams, and laughter. Second, I hope that they go home
talking about the quandaries posed by reproductive technologies which
could, very easily, stray down the unenlightened path of the tragedy of
eugenic testing in the past.
Phindie: Thanks Jackie!
BABEL runs February 13 to March 8, 2020, at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th Street. It’s produced at Theatre Exile as a part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, with dates at Unicorn Theatre (Missouri), Good Company Theatre (Utah), Contemporary American Theater Festival (West Virginia), Passage Theatre Company (New Jersey), Florida Studio Theatre, and one other venue TBA.
Article by Christopher Munden for Phindie, Independent Coverage of Philadelphia Theatre and Arts