Fire Exit Theatre to present stirring Babette’s Feast
by Laureen F. Guenther
Babette’s Feast, a play based on the short story by Isak Dinesen and produced by Fire Exit Theatre, will be performed in Calgary’s Arts Commons, December 11 to 15.
“The story centers on these two sisters in the 1800s, in Norway,” says director Jeany Van Meltebeke Snider. “(They’re in a) very remote village, where they’re part of a pretty strict religious sect, and they have learned to not value their physical appetites or their earthly lives. They are seeking the new Jerusalem in the next life.”
The sisters, played by Kyla Ferrier and Sarah Haggeman, live simply, eating ale, bread, soup, and boiled cod.
They welcome a French refugee named Babette (Jane Phillips) and teach her to cook their simple fare. But Babette is a chef, and she figures out how to add little delights to their menu.
Then Babette receives an unexpected financial windfall.
“She orders goods from France and makes a real French dinner, with special wines with names and five courses. And it’s amazing,” Snider says.
“Suddenly it awakens their longing to sing or their longing for love or their true need for one another.”
“They finally start to taste (earthly pleasures), (and) their hearts are opened, not just their appetites satiated, but that their soulful hunger is also getting met.”
This is Snider’s first time to work with the play script of Babette’s Feast, but she’s watched the academy award-winning 1987 movie version every year for 30 years. It has special significance for her as an artist.
“Babette says, ‘The cry of an artist that goes out into the world says give me leave to do my utmost,’” Snider says. “Give me a chance to do my very best.”
Two of the characters are artists in very different ways.
“One of (the sisters) is an amazing singer, and she has the chance to go to Paris and be a diva and have the world at her feet. And she lets it go. But then she is told, ‘Some day you will delight the angels.’”
“Sometimes as a woman in theatre who is not always cast, like most of us are not always cast,” Snider says, “you need that eternal perspective.”
Babette, she says, is also an artist. “Her art is cooking and she’s an amazing chef. And when she gets to do her utmost … there’s no longer any distinction between physical and spiritual appetite. Indeed the whole feast is like a love affair. (It) can work magic in opening people’s hearts and loosening their tongues and forgiveness.”
Sound designer Rachel Peacock is also the composer of “rich, rich music” and live harpist for this production.
Terry Gunverdahl, the scenic and lighting designer, is of Norwegian heritage, and has seen the region of Norway where this story is set.
“He’s designing this set that depicts these high mountains and this narrow fjord of water, which is so fascinating,” Snider says.
“It’s not a Christmas story. But it resounds with everyone who holds the Christmas story dear. I think it gives great food for contemplation for every human.”
“Christmas can be a lot about contemplation, meditation, or entertainment can be in connection and I think this is one that the deepest hope that we carry in our soul will resound, because it’s talking about those things of ultimate fulfillment.”
Snider urges us to come and see this live production of Babette’s Feast. “To encounter story together is so important,” she says. “Let’s resound with a story, particularly a story like this that’s biblically sound and as daring as God’s grace is. … Dare to come and rub shoulders with people you don’t know and to share through the communion of story.”
Babette’s Feast plays from Dec 11 to 15 in the Engineered Air Theatre in Calgary’s Arts Commons. Get tickets and more information at www.fireexit.ca.