Canadian playwright John Lazarus decades ago found comedy in the tragic story of The Tower of Babel, history’s ultimate vanity project. As the Bible’s version goes, the tower was envisioned by spiritually ambitious developers in ancient Mesopotamia as a literal stairway to heaven. The skyscraper and the city around it were to be built so high that anyone could hike up and get some facetime with the Divine.
But God, who makes His own appointments, thank you, was unamused. All peoples of the world at that time spoke the same language, but the Almighty, angered by this pretentious scheme, put an end to that. He confounded speech into a jumble – a babble – of tongues. Humans no longer understood each other and were scattered around the world, all those millennia ago, in a bitter and confused manner still familiar to anyone watching the nightly news.
The Driftwood Players are mounting a unique digital production of Lazarus’s one-act play, Babel Rap, with four performances from Thursday, May 21 to Sunday, the 24th. The play, written in 1972, is a snappy dialogue between two labourers helping build the tower. Micheal Oswald plays Smoker, also known as He Who Slacks. Worker, portrayed by Richard Austin, is He Who Hammers Nails. As Worker steadfastly toils away, and Smoker indulges in an unending cigarette break, the pair argue about the pros and cons of this questionable construction project.
“[My character] just sits there, not doing any work and watching the birds go by and wondering whether this tower is even a good idea,” Oswald said in an interview. He admitted he is drawing his performance partly from his own life when, as a younger man, he was a lot like He Who Slacks. “I now have a work ethic. But then, I was very lazy. I’d just lay back and figure everything would happen in its own time,” he said.
“It’s a funny play with many great moments,” Austin added. He and Oswald had been rehearsing Babel Rap for several months and had planned to perform it at a local venue. But COVID-19 forced them to a Plan B. So, they’re taking it online with the popular live technology, Zoom. Driftwood Players, tongue-in-cheek, have dubbed it “A Covideo Production.” It will include a “virtual lobby” before the show where audience members can chat, then a 20-minute performance of the play, followed by more schmoozing in a “virtual reception.”
While the two actors will be in separate locations, they will have similar painted backdrops of sky and clouds. “It will look much like we’re in the same place,” said Austin, “high up above the ground, trying to build this tower as a shortcut to heaven.”
Driftwood regulars Troy Demmitt and Bill Forst have stepped up as director and producer, respectively. Forst said those who want to be part of the live viewing audience need to sign up in advance, “kind of like a virtual ticketed performance. They email me (at firstname.lastname@example.org), and then I email them back with the Zoom link.”
The production is also a fundraiser for Sunshine Coast Community Services Society and Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL). “We are not charging anything for the ‘ticket,’” Forst added. “But we have set up a donation page on www.share-there.com. All profits will be shared between the Food Bank and SCACL.”