In many facets, it can be very difficult to predict the future. But South Philly-based playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger imagines a world where we can do just that. Her latest production, Babel, is a dark comedy that takes you on a journey into the future where parents learn within the first weeks of conception which traits their child will have and which behaviors it is likely to exhibit. The play made its premiere yesterday at Theatre Exile and lasts until March 8. Prior to opening night, Goldfinger chatted with the Review about her new play, how it differs from her previous plays and peering into the future.
I read a synopsis of the play already, but could you give me a summary of it in your own words?
Sure. So Babel is a dark comedy about two couples who have been best friends forever who each get pregnant at the same time and the near future and they have their babies tested for various diseases and such and the test results come back very differently. And so between the two couples and a 6-foot-tall talking stork, they sort their way through what they want to do with the test results, and they decide drastically different things. While it’s a play that has a lot of intellectual, moral and ethical questions about how much should we know about our children in utero, it also has the heart of these two couples who love each other like family.
How did you come up with the idea for the play? It sounds like something that came about after a long night of exploring a Wikipedia rabbit hole on eugenics or something.
Yeah [laughs]. Well, I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi, and I love the fact that sci-fi stories can really allow us to explore questions that are scary but in a way that is a little more understandable and bearable and with humor and heart. When I got pregnant – I have 7-year-old twins – we got some [negative] test results back from our doctor. Luckily everything’s fine, but it was exactly that. It was getting these test results coming home, going down the Google rabbit hole of what does this mean, what could it mean? And I had not realized how far reproductive technology had come in terms of being able to both test in utero cells as well as what they could manipulate. So I just found it fascinating and then I had the babies and thank goodness, thank God they were healthy, knock on wood. And then I spent five years raising the babies for kindergarten so it was just in the last year and a half, two years that I was able to come back to the idea of this would be a really great play. It’s juicy.
So for the past seven years it’s been kicking around in your brain, but only recently did you have the opportunity to really pursue it.
It’s set in the future, correct?
It is, it’s set in the recognizable near future. A lot like black mirror.
- You don’t see a lot of plays or books or movies set in the future, at least compared to those set in the present or the past. Why do you think that’s the case?
I think that the challenge of setting stories in the near future is that we’re not very good at predicting what’s going to come. However, with this technology where we cannot predict exactly where it will go – we know it’s going somewhere, and we know what the major questions will be. So it gives me an edge because I, at least from the American Medical Association and a number of other medical authorities, have released statements about where this type of technology is going and what we need to think about. So I have a much better idea, which is just not true with most science, right? Usually we have no idea where things are going. I’m still waiting for my Jetsons hoverboard. That’s all I’m saying. I was promised that by 2020, and it’s not here.
I would imagine that because there’s so many unanswered questions, it leaves more room for creativity.
Absolutely! And that’s the fun part where I get to imagine. Also, the show does not dive into the technical. You don’t have to worry about knowing a lot about science to come, right? It allows me to really focus the story on the general ideas and then on the families and parents who are going through it. So it allows it to be human and funny and touching and all of these things and not have to worry about all of the technical details because we don’t know what those are yet.
Is this something you put a lot of research into? Or is it more just about telling a story?
So, I did do a lot of research, but it’s one of those things where I did a lot of research – we’re so lucky here in Philadelphia between Jefferson and Penn and Temple, we have phenomenal scientists doing incredible work, so I got to interview some folks. But it was one of those processes where I did a ton of research, and I put it all to the side and I said, ‘OK, what are the most human and exciting parts of the human story?’ And then I allowed the research to just inform as I wrote about these friends.
So who is the target audience? What type of person would enjoy this play?
Well, for sure, anyone who likes the Black Mirror type of human sci-fi, for sure. Also, so this has a six-production, rolling world premiere around the country over the next year in six different regions of the country, which is really exciting. It has already had its production in Kansas City, this is just the second one in Philly and in Kansas City what we found was that the audience for the play was incredibly wide. There’s some people who really came just because they enjoyed the humor, there was some people who came and were really strongly attached to what the friends did or the relationship between the two moms or the two dads, so there’s really anyone who’s interested in thinking and talking about family was interested. And then the sci-fi was just a backdrop for that, so all the sci-fi folks loved it, too. So it’s nice that it’s a piece that has a larger range for audiences.
How does this play differ from your previous plays?
This play is more story-based. So it does move along at kind of a faster pace. There’s more humor. I did try and make it feel very much like a part of the stories you see today on Netflix or HBO, but theatricalize those ideas. I feel like that is the type of audience that is also going to love this piece.
For more information about Babel, visit theatreexile.org. Ticket prices range from $10 to $40.