For retired Wantagh High School teacher David Dubin, it was a happy coincidence when former student Daniel Henig showed up at a casting call for Long Island’s premiere production of “The Babylon Line,” running through March 4 at Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst.
“I started because of my English teacher,” recalls Dubin, who has also been the Lindenhurst playhouse’s director for the past 35 years, of discovering his own love for the stage.
Teacher-student relationships are also explored in East Meadow native Richard Greenberg’s play, which debuted last year at Lincoln Center. The story takes place in a wooden desk outfitted classroom in Levittown, the nation’s first planned, cookie-cutter community, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
The play’s protagonist — Aaron Port, played by Larry Mitchell — is a barely published writer from downtown Manhattan who commutes on the Long Island Rail Road once a week to the Nassau County suburb to instruct a gaggle of housewives and two men on the art of creative writing. Half the students — including Frieda Cohen, a domineering doyenne whose backyard garden was featured in Newsday, and Henig’s character, Marc Adams, who has been psychologically impaired by a drug overdose — don’t even want to be there but were locked out of the other adult education class offerings.
One suspects their teacher doesn’t want to be there either. “He is an outsider who sees his students as closed-minded and provincial, yet he can’t help realizing the people in Levittown are happy with their lives,” Dubin says. “We do see their petty neighborhood complaints and their desire to conform, yet there’s something noble in the way they defend their values, the fact that they feel they have somewhere to belong and know what’s expected of them.”
Calling the Studio Theatre Long Island’s answer to Off-Broadway, Dubin is selective when choosing the nonprofit playhouse’s productions. “I’m very well aware of our audience, many of whom were founding owners of their communities,” he says. One couple, Peter and Elaine Fabregas, who are now in their 90s, he notes, have come to nearly every show since the theater’s establishment in the late 1950s.
To be sure, “The Babylon Line,” as its title suggests, is about connecting — that is, beyond connecting the city to suburbia. It is about connecting the audience to the actors and to the play’s exploration of the bedroom community as both a haven of comfort and constraint. It’s also about connecting the characters to each other, and, ultimately, the characters to themselves. “In telling their stories and witnessing their classmates’ reactions, by the time the semester is over,” says Dubin, “they understand themselves a little better.”
‘THE BABYLON LINE’
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 4, Studio Theatre of Long Island, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $27; 631-226-8400, studiotheatreli.com