Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Babette's Feast TOP PICK

Juliana Francis Kelly, Steven Skybell, Abigail Killeen and Michelle Hurst. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Babette's Feast
Conceived and Developed by Abigail Killeen
Written by Rose Courtney, adapted from the short story by Isak Dinesen
Directed by Karin Coonrod
Theater at St. Clement's

By Lauren Yarger
An exquisite and tasteful staging of the New York premiere of Babette's Feast serves up this week's Easter message of love and grace.

The production at St. Clements stars Michelle Hurst (“Orange is the New Black”) as Babette, a French refugee who finds asylum in a pious Protestant community in 19th-Century Norway. Life in the community is sequestered, especially for the daughters of its religious leader. Sisters Philippa and Martine (Juliana Francis Kelly and Abigail Kileen, who conceived and developed the play) each have a chance at love -- Philippa with a famous French opera star and Martine with a Swedish officer. Their father disapproves, however, and when the men leave, the women continue with their uneventful lives

Until Babette arrives, that is. The woman, about whom rumors fly, arrives with a letter of introduction from Philippa's former suitor, asking her family to provide some of the same hospitality and kindness they bestowed on him during his stay.  The women offer Babette a position in their home as a cook and she stays for the next 14 years.

Babette is accepted into the community, but doesn't reveal much about her former, tragic life. Her only connection to her past is a nephew and a national lottery ticket which he faithfully purchases for her. When it hits, Babette prepares a feast, the likes of which the community has never seen. It brings back memories for Martine's former beau who stops by for a visit. Could he have sat at Babette's table once before?

Her gift to the town is one of the most selfless acts of gratitude you might ever witness. It transforms the villagers and gives them moments of joy where they experience God's grace and forgiveness. The message, based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, is moving and poignant without getting preachy. It's one of the best sermons you can experience for Easter this week. And this story, originally published in 1950, seems relevant in the midst of current cultural wars about immigration.

The tale, written for the stage by Rose Courtney, unfolds on a stage minimally dressed by Christopher Akerlind, who also designs the lighting which, along with black and white Puritan costuming (designed by Oana Botez),  keeps the visual dark and dim, like the lives of the villagers. When Babette's feast touches the diners, lights brighten, and we get a sense of the joy they feel.

Director Karin Coonrod expertly moves actors a few steps to create changes of scene. (Members rounding out the tight ensemble are Jo Mei, Elliot Nye, Steven Skybell, Sorab Wadia, Sturgis Warner, and Jeorge Bennett Watson.)

Coonrod also employs a minimalist technique, having the actors pantomime most of the props depicted, and resorts to the real things only for the feast, where candles and crystal beautify the table. I do have to admit, I was hoping for a David Cromer moment like the one from Our Town where the scene comes to life in visual and sensory ways. The feast is a bit disappointing and doesn't seem all that different from the bland and subdued life that proceeded it.

This 90-minute production premiered in January at Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME. In a related note, Stéphane Audran, who starred as Babette in the 1987 Oscar winning movie, died yesterday.

Babette serves up some spiritual delights at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 West 46th St., NYC. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $39.50 - $99: Telecharge.com; 212-239-6200.
Additional credits:
Sound Design by Kate Marvin, Original Music by Gina Leishman

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain 

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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