Regional Reviews: San Diego
Also see Bill's review of Jitney
Based on the Isak Dinesen short story, and conceived and developed by Abigail Killeen and adapted by Rose Courtney, the structure of the script is divided into three sections. The first establishes a Norwegian village, Berlevåg, and features a young soldier, Löwenhielm (Ross Hellwig), who visits the village. The second section focuses on the attraction between an opera singer, Papin (Charles Evans Jr), and the daughter of the Protestant leader of Berlevåg, Philippa (Catie Grady). For the final and longest part of the play, the third section follows a maid, Babette (Yolanda Marie Franklin), who escaped a nightmarish existence when the Paris Commune ruled over the French city. Soon after that, she moves into the village. Courtney's written adaptation, direction by Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth, and the cast are equally responsible for a memorable evening in Coronado.
Courtney's adaptation incorporates different emotions that tie into the human experience, such as joy, sadness and disappointment. Despite the 19th century setting, audiences will relate to numerous scenes. One particular example is how regret plays a part in the tale. Without spoiling too much, there is a positive message about how people are able to live fulfilling lives even if some things do not according to plan. Religious symbolism and messages are also explored and are organic to various events.
Smyth directs the 90-minute, one-act play with an unrushed quality that allows theatregoers to be transported to Berlevåg. Conversations between the citizens are just as engrossing as the singing lessons shared between Papin and Philippa (powerfully sung by Evans Jr and Grady). The design team, including set designer Mike Buckley, costume designer Jemima Dutra, and lighting designer Nathan Peirson, have been meticulous in making the climactic feast resemble a realistic painting. Patrick Duffy's audio helps cellist Diana Elledge shine. She plays emotional music, which includes selections composed and directed by cast member, associate Artistic Director and director of Patron Services Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Mr. Smyth has staged the majority of the ensemble to act as a band of storytellers.
The artists, which include Associate Artistic Director and Director of Educational Outreach Kerry Meads, Rick Meads, Jason Heil, Omri Schein, and Rachael VanWormer, energetically serve as narrators and members of the Berlevåg community. There's a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in how they describe the village, and they bring pathos and warm humor to the inhabitants of the town. Franklin is the only player who portrays a single character, and she expresses Babette's mysterious and giving nature with a compassionate performance.
Despite being small in scale, Babette's Feast expertly captures the highs and lows of life. You might leave the drama literally starving, but Smyth's production is as satisfying as a delicious three-course meal.
Babette's Feast runs through February 16, 2020, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado CA. Tickets start at $24. For tickets or more information, visit lambsplayers.org or call 619-437-6000.