By Tammy Scileppi
While Levittown was once praised as a suburban utopia and model of the American can-do spirit by some, others saw it as an example of stifling cookie-cutter suburbia.
But the former was Abraham Levitt’s vision when he imagined a picture-perfect planned community in Nassau County, L.I., back in 1947.
The town’s unpretentious, affordable homes boasting tiny manicured lawns, were ideal for returning WWII vets and their families, and became a popular housing option for millions in the decades that followed.
But in the ‘50s, trouble was brewing in paradise. The town’s story — which represented for many all that was hopeful and wholesome — encapsulated both the positive as well as darker sides of the rise of the American suburbs, as social justice activists battled against the tide of segregation and housing discrimination that once swept the nation.
From the growing counter-culture movement emerged “Little Boxes,” a song that captured what some saw as unappealing: a forced conformity exemplified by uniform “ticky-tacky” homes all lined up in rows like boxes.
But Levittown, like much of suburbia, has evolved over the years. And these days, styles along with attitudes, have changed. And folks who want to escape the city’s noise and crowds, still enjoy its serenity and strong sense of community.
It seems one such person may have been housewife (sans kids), Joan Dellamond, who in 1967 attends an adult-ed creative writing class held at the local high school, during a time of changing social attitudes.
Her character — as played by Heidi Jean Weinrich, in Douglaston Community Theatre’s fall 2018 production of “The Babylon Line” — is the gifted writer in the class whose work delights instructor Aaron Port (John Carrozza), who lives in Greenwich Village and reverse commutes to Levittown on the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon line.
Director Linda Hanson, a Bellerose native, has brought popular playwright Richard Greenberg’s luminous work to life, and after debuting at DCT last weekend, the play will be running through Nov. 17, so you can still catch it.
“The Babylon Line” tells the story of a man who learns an unexpected life lesson; looking back, he can see a time when a few weeks in the fall of 1967 in a schoolroom in Levittown, changed his life. It is through his memory of that experience, that the play unfolds.
Aaron notices cracks in his students’ not so perfect small-town community; seems they’re writing increasingly more honest life accounts and stories.
Joan, his favorite, is different from the other three Levittown housewives taking the course. Frieda Cohen (Sherry Mandery) is the self-appointed “Mayor of Levittown,” who shares domestic tales with coffee-klatch cohorts Anna Cantor (Adrianne Noroian) and Midge Braverman (Jocelyn Weston).
An intelligent woman who now feels freer to explore her true self, Joan has lived her life unconventionally during the’60s make love not war hippie zeitgeist. Yet Aaron still seems to be evolving and has a hard time breaking loose from his old-school ways. Will their mutual attraction blossom into something more?
Jack Hassenpflug (Spencer Cohen) tells the story of his war experiences, and Marc Adams (Whitestone resident Robert Gold) seems to live in his own little world.
“The play is that rare combination of comedy and drama, and at times is quite poignant. I believe the audience will be reminded of memories of their past with a longing and even maybe a touch of regret for opportunities missed,” Hanson said.
She said her inspiration for this production came about during a subway ride to Penn Station, as she was coming home from the theater with a friend. They were discussing which train to catch at Penn for Long Island — Hanson lives in Woodmere.
“The gentlemen seated next to us interjected, ‘Are you talking about the Babylon Line? I just saw it and it was wonderful.’ We all chuckled at the misunderstanding, but I was intrigued by the title and the man’s positive review,” Hanson said.
“About a year later, I went to see a production of the play and really liked what I saw. I thought I could tell an interesting story and afford the cast a challenging piece to work on if I could get the chance to direct it,” she added.
So, Hanson, who has directed several productions for DCT – which was established in 1950 and is the oldest of its kind in Queens – over the past 20-plus years, suggested they present the play, and they agreed.
“DCT has always been very supportive of my theatrical efforts, and I am once again grateful to them for the opportunity to bring this play to the Queens/Long Island audience, who may not have had the opportunity thus far to have seen it,” she said.
You can catch the show Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9, 10, 16, 17 at 8 p.m. as well as Sunday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $19 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. For tickets and more information, call (718) 482-3332 or visit www.dcton
Attendees should enter from 44th Avenue off Douglaston Parkway.