BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON, Playwrights’ Center, at Loyola University Chicago, Kathleen Mullady Memorial Theatre. The stories David Alex tells in his ambitious biblical-era drama are at least as old as–well, the Bible itself. A young man turns his back on his father’s profession to follow his own dream; a wise man is imprisoned because his prophesies do not flatter the king; men and women of faith struggle to understand how a just God can tolerate injustice. Contemporary resonances abound–Alex explores generation gaps, blind patriotism, and the folly of war–as the young, impetuous idol worshiper Shamshaya leaves his family behind and encounters the imprisoned prophet Jeremiah, who helps him understand the nature of faith, love, and sacrifice.

In this thoughtful, well-structured meditation, Alex displays a rare humanism and a willingness to confront difficult philosophical issues in a theatrical context. But despite Katie Klemme’s exquisitely designed and fairly well acted production, the play has the didactic, declamatory feel of a Sunday-school performance. Simple conflicts define Alex’s largely noble characters, and his dialogue relies heavily on such epigrams as “We are all soldiers on our own battlefields, but we each fight our own war” and “We have a common enemy–it is ourselves.” Alex delivers useful lessons about the need to overcome differences in national and religious affiliations, but his drama lacks the subtlety and poetry that would turn this intelligent sermon into compelling theater. –Adam Langer