photo by Tim Fuller
From left. Martine (Bryn Booth), Babette (Carley Elizabeth Preston) and Philippa (Kate Scally) discuss village life in Berlevaag.
It doesn't matter if you have already seen the 1987 Oscar-winning Danish film “Babette's Feast,” directed by Gabriel Axel. You must see The Rogue Theatre's stage version now running through Jan. 29, directed by Joseph McGrath using the theater adaptation written by Rose Courtney based on the original short story of Isak Dinesen.
If you haven't seen the film version than you really must embrace what The Rogue has prepared without ever turning on a stove to stir up so much as a bowl of turtle soup.
Quite remarkable is how this story – when it is told by actual people on a stage setting mostly made of bare wood, enhanced by the concert grand piano accompaniment of Russell Ronnebaum – grows deeper, more endearing and intimate as we watch how a true artistic spirit comes to stand for truth facing down the artificial values of religious rigidity that insists on making its own demands.
This feast is no longer about the food. Disarmingly simple in the telling, McGrath meticulously builds an atmosphere of tenderness laced with innocence.
Running approximately 90 minutes without intermission, “Babette's Feast” spans several decades, stretching across northern Europe from revolution-racked Paris in the later 1800s to the timeless isolation of Berlevaag, a tiny puritan settlement on a forgotten Norwegian fjord where one's faith is expressed daily by a proud ability to absorb every hardship and inconvenience imaginable.
The cast of nine is divided into two parts. Carley Elizabeth Preston plays Babette. Kate Scally and Bryn Booth are the lovely spinster sisters Philippa and Martine respectively.
Six others take on the roles of various villagers and visitors to this rigid community. They are Shannon Elias, Jim Fry, David Greenwood, Hunter Hnat, Cynthia Meier and Dennis Tamblyn.
While the play itself is a collection of short scenes stitched together with narration to create a sort of photo album tale, two scenes in particular are quite touching.
Tamblyn, a classically trained singer, plays the flamboyant French opera star Achille Papin who seeks some rest in Berlevaag's isolation. He is smitten by Philippa's naturally soaring voice (Scally is also classically trained) and immediately offers to give her singing lessons.
Papin also sees in Philippa the youth he no longer possesses and, during these lessons, becomes drawn into wanting to posses her.
Another early visitor is Lt. Loewenheilm (Hnat) even more captivated by the beauty of Martine. But his career as a military officer and Martine's life in Berlevaag are hopelessly incompatible. He returns to his own ambitions and the next time we see the lieutenant back in the village he has become Gen. Loewenheilm (now played by Greenwood).
The General talks proudly of his military achievements and his loving wife, his travels and such, but when he sees Martine once again he is that smitten lieutenant, his heart melting.
“Babette's Feast” plays Thursdays through Sundays with performances at 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday plus 2 pm matinees Saturday-Sunday in The Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Off-street parking is available.
Tickets are $42 general admission, $15 students. Ticket packages are available. For details and reservations, 520-551-2053.
For current COVID protocols, visit theroguetheatre.org Masks are encouraged except when drinking or eating.