Lamb’s Players Theatre loves a good story – and they’ve been specializing in dramatizing them since their early days as a company. They’ve found another one to tell, and the result is a veritable banquet for the mind and the soul.
Story Theatre is a technique for telling stories theatrically. It relies on imagination, eschewing lavish production, with only a hint of costuming and a suggestion of deep feeling. When done well, the technique draws in audiences, makes their members active participants in the storytelling, and often serves to bring out deep emotional responses to simple tales. The actors telling the story take turns narrating and often play multiple characters by using a simple costume piece or prop to spark a much more elaborated response.
Such is the case with Lamb’s production of Barbette’s Feast a story by the prolific Danish author, Karen Blixen, who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen. It is a simple story about simple people who find grace while living in a remote Norwegian town.
The community has an austere faith appropriate to its austere location. The patriarch (Jason Heil) maintains polite but firm control, and his two beautiful daughters (Caitie Grady and Rachel VanWormer) have many suitors but never marry. One particular suit involved an opera singer from Paris (Charles Evans, Jr.), but it, too, ended.
The opera singer would resurface, in the form of a letter being carried by a refugee from the French resistance named Babette (Yolanda Marie Franklin). The letter served as an introduction to the community for a woman on the lam for her political activities. The community took her in, accepting her offer to serve as housekeeper without pay.
After a time, the woman won money from the French lottery and offered to cook a celebratory meal for the staid Norwegians. The catch: they had to let her cook the meal she wanted to cook, rather than the bland fare they were used to eating. Reluctantly, they agreed. Thus: Babette’s feast, for the spirit as well as the body.
Babette’s Feast is written as an ensemble show (this West Coast premiere was conceived and developed by Abigail Killeen and adapted by Rose Courtney), and its primary delight lies in how fluidly the cast performs with each other (cast members not already mentioned are Ross Hellwig, Rick Meads, Kerry Meads, Omri Schein, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth). And, sometimes, sing with each other: Ms. Smyth has written original music and selected other music for members of the cast to sing, sturdily accompanied by Cellist Diana Elledge.
The exception is the character of Babette, who, as played by the redoubtable Ms. Franklin, quickly becomes the spiritual center of the production and the embodiment of the palpable sense of grace that emanates from it.
Lamb’s Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth has staged this production as a seeming tribute to the community of professional theatre makers that he has championed over the years. All of the creative credits go to Lamb’s staff: scenic design by Mike Buckley, costume design by Jemina Dutra, lighting design by Nathan Peirson, and sound design by Rachel Hengst.
Babette’s Feast thus becomes Lamb’s Players Theatre’s gift to its audiences. May those audiences come and partake of its abundance.
Performs Tuesdays 7:30pm, Wednesdays 2pm and 7:30pm, Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4 & 8pm, and Sundays 2pm. There is some variation in this schedule, so check with the theatre before going there without a ticket. Street parking is available; check with the box office for instructions if you would prefer to pay for underground parking. The performance runs about 95 minutes with no intermission. This review is based on the Sunday, January 19, performance.