Babel Tower

Alexis Kozak's new play is set in the isolated town of Black Kettle, Texas, in 1950. The town's name might lead you to expect a comedy, but it quickly becomes apparent that the playwright is in deadly earnest. It's also soon clear in this inept drama that in Black Kettle, corn grows considerably higher than an elephant's eye.

Kozak's preposterous story is stitched together with clichés. The townspeople of Black Kettle have come together to build a mysterious tower: "The tallest manmade structure west of Chicago." Standing alone against this community effort is Jack (Ty Hewitt), a former high school football star and current gas-station owner. "It's going to ruin this town", says Jack to his old friend William (Ryan Farrell). William, however, is Black Kettle's mayor and the project's driving force, who claims, "I'm gonna bring us fame beyond our wildest dreams." Jack, upset to find that his wife, Hattie (Steph Van Vlack), is also working on the tower, goes to his friend the professor (Tony Cormier), a science teacher who was barred from teaching 15 years ago because of his wild theories. The professor, who is also William's father—but they haven't spoken in years—sets out to convince Jack that the tower is actually a rocket being built by the Russians. Meanwhile, William goes to Hattie to tell her he's loved her "since you broke my heart in high school" and ask her to leave Jack and run away with him in three days. But in three days the rocket will go up! Then we discover that the professor and William have been secretly working on the rocket for years, intending William to be "the first man in space." William wants Hattie with him so they can be "space's Adam and Eve." Stay tuned.

By this time I was praying that someone would just get in the rocket and go. While credulity is being stretched like soft taffy, the playwright also flirts with a more serious theme by overlaying all this with a metaphorical fog about the future: "Future ruins potential, because once future arrives, potential is gone forever." Kozak also directs, which in the circumstances is not the best move. The cast works hard to bring reality to these shenanigans, with Farrell the most convincing Texan.

If only Kozak had rendered his plot in comic terms, he might have been able to put Black Kettle on the map.

Presented by Roundtable Ensemble at the ArcLight Theatre, 152 W. 71st St., NYC. Jan. 16–Feb. 2. Mon. and Tue., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m. (800) 838-3006 or