Interview with Dan Wirth
A Backstage Interview With Dan Wirth
February 23, 2022
Northeastern Illinois University’s Department of Communication, Media and Theater (CMT) presents “Babel” by Jacqueline Goldfinger. Directed by CMT faculty member Dan Wirth, he talked to The Independent about what we will see on the Stage Center Theater from Feb. 24 to 26 and March 2 to 4 at 7:30 p.m, and at 2 p.m. on March 5, 2022.
The Independent (Indy): Why have you chosen this particular play and what is its main plot about?
Dan Wirth (DW): The Department of Communication, Media, and Theater has a specific interest in plays that deal with the sort of current interests and concerns, a lot of which might have to do with social justice and things happening in society. “Babel” is sort of a little bit of sci-fi and kind of a what-if story. In the play, society has somehow done away with things like racial prejudice, and any of those kinds of issues that concern us nowadays. But what they are concerned with now, is genetic selection in terms of having children that conform to some notion that the government has about purity. The society presented in the play chose to allow the government to control how people reproduce in terms of what babies get to, and what babies do not get to live. The play reflects the struggle of two couples – one is a same-sex couple, and the other is an opposite-sex couple — as individuals and as couples to deal with this society, where this is now the law, this is now what’s normal.
Indy: This reminds me a lot of “Brave New World,” the novel by Aldous Huxley, and also about “Gattaca,” a movie written and directed by Andrew Niccol.
DW: It’s not the same exact thing. But, there are similar kinds of issues and themes in it in terms of when you try to do social engineering, that, of course, is not going to be fair, some people are not going to be treated fairly in that kind of society. In the play, you have some sort of pariah, second-class citizens that don’t even appear on the stage, but the main characters talk about it simply by referring to them as “Them.” On the other hand, those who had been “certified” genetically and have certain privileges. But even though they’ve been certified, [they] are constantly being tested when somebody becomes pregnant because if the baby doesn’t test at a high enough standard, they will encourage the woman to have a miscarriage. Otherwise, the baby won’t be certified. This is one of the main concerns of the characters because there is no guarantee that their children will be certified. This idea of everyone being tested, controlled, scrutinized has some similarities too with other dystopian worlds like George Orwell’s “1984,” where “Big Brother” monitors the population. The play is a cautionary tale in some ways. It’s like a fable, and in the end, of course,the message is that we shouldn’t allow interference in our lives or our children’s lives by any kind of overseeing government.
Indy: What can you tell us about the characters?
DW: There are very different personalities. Even though only four characters will appear on the stage, they are very different people. And that is one of the things that is good about the play is that it is not just speeches like, “government shouldn’t do this”… the characters are interesting in the way that they interact with each other. They are well-rounded human beings that evolve and struggle. They are not just stereotypical things that are like a mouthpiece for ideas. And then there’s a giant stork. That’s a character that shows up in the play and does stand-up comedy.
Indy: This is something I wanted to ask because until now what you have been telling us seems like pretty serious material, and the play is actually supposed to be a comedy. So how are the humoristic elements introduced in the play?
DW: Well, it is not a satire, but in the midst of the serious issues going on are people struggling with their beliefs and their values. Wisely, the playwright injects humor into the drama. A lot of it comes from the giant stork – playing with the idea of storks delivering babies — it shows up and does comedy monologues. At first, we don’t really understand this character. Later, you get used to it. In the end, it plays a fundamental role.
Indy: How long have you been preparing and adapting the performance?
DW: Going back to last October. I did a whole bunch of research in terms of the kind of world that it would look like and then communicated that to everybody else — the set designer, the lighting, and the kind of costumes that would be in this world. The idea is that it is not a far future, like 50 years from now, or something like that. It is like it could be now, but with some slight futuristic details.
Regarding the adaptation to COVID protocols: everybody is wearing masks and we were trying to keep the social distance, for instance, nobody gets to kiss – anybody, something that would make sense in this play where there are two couples. The whole thing with masks and distances and all of that has been a concern since before we even had auditions. But I think, that what we have got is working well, for the circumstances.
Indy: What kind of response do you expect to receive from the audience?
DW: It’s weird because there are going to be socially distanced audiences. So in a theater that seats over 100 people, we will have like, 35 people, or something like that. So a full house is going to be not that many people. When you get 100 people in a room and stuff is funny, you get somebody laughing, and they’re more likely to laugh because they are all kind of in there together. You get a sort of crowd response. I have no idea of what it is going to be like with a smaller audience. I hope the audience [isn’t] afraid to laugh, which would help. Even if they do not laugh at the funny parts, they will be able to get the idea of the story and the struggle that the characters are having, with themselves, with each other, and with society.