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By the Waters of Babylon

There’s delicate poetical imagery in Robert Schenkkan’s 2005 drama about the meeting of and fleeting romance between two exiles in an Austin suburb. That delicacy, however, is saturated by generic chat between the characters and a somewhat predictable romance. You know a play’s in trouble when a gun has to be drawn in order to elicit some palpable drama. That’s no slight against the actors — Demian Bichir and Shannon Cochran — whose sincere and layered interpretations of a Cuban gardener and his deeply troubled white female employer keep the action watchable. This is a play that unearths the past about how they got to where they are — stories of their respective betrayals, as both victims and perpetrators, their guilt and their defenses as life’s hardships have piled up against both of them. So the drama consists of them meeting, courting, spurning that courtship, her regrets over their one-night stand, and the stories that spill from both of them with far too much ease to be an entirely plausible reflection of the grief they’ve both suffered. Michael Ganio’s ornate set consists of an outdoor jungle of pampas-grass for Act 1, which yields to the woman’s bedroom in Act 2. It has a kind of cinematic realism that seems at odds with the metaphysics the play is driving at — where freedom is the freedom to imagine. Neither the play nor the set asks for much imagination on our part. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Dec. 7. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Nov. 5. Continues through Dec. 7, 2008

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