Weight Watchers is full of pithy aphorisms that keep participants on track to their goal weight. “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels” is one that came to mind after the curtain fell on a new Off-Broadway production of Babette’s Feast. Thanks to clever staging and Director Karin Coonrod’s respect for audience intelligence, one feels as though a sumptuous meal has been enjoyed without the consumption of a single calorie.
The production comes to the Theater at St. Clements via Portland, Maine where it originally premiered earlier this year. The story is one that is familiar, particularly to fans of the 1987 Danish film which earned an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film and piqued even further interests in the decadence and delight of French cooking. While there exist similarities between the film and the stage version, Abigail Killeen conceived and developed the work from Isak Dinesen’s short story which appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1950.
Phillipa (Juliana Francis Kelly) and Martine (Killeen) are two devout Lutheran sisters who reside in the small town of Berlevag, Norway with their fellow religious sect. Their father, a minister, has passed away and the sisters are attempting desperately to maintain strict adherence to his customs and rules. Their maid, Babette (Michelle Hurst from Orange is the New Black fame), appeared at their humble home 14 years before and–as we come to learn–has lived quite a storied life. Tired of the humble vittles that she cooks for the sisters on a regular basis, Babette takes her lottery winnings and prepares a lavish meal for the sisters and their fellow villagers. Though actual food is not served, the cast mimes the preparation and consumption.
Much Christian symbolism can be found in this story of selflessness and sacrifice, but it all boils down to grace. Coonrod’s cast of nine all work efficiently and effectively to render a quiet, but immensly powerful tale that teaches us how to receive unexpected generosity with open hands and hearts. The production itself is an unexpected gift to theatergoers hungry for a meaningful night of theater. Fortunately, we can still taste the riches and leave the table as light as a feather.
Babette’s Feast enjoys an open-ended run at Theatre at St. Clements (423 West 46th Street between 9th and 10th Ave.) NYC. For tickets and information, click here.