Review: ‘Babette’s Feast’ a warmhearted exploration of the spiritual and the sensual at Lamb’s Players – The San Diego Union-Tribune

The town at the mouth of a Norwegian fjord in Babettes Feast is not necessarily on anyones list of foodie destinations, unless youre a seabird jonesing for sardines.

But in the folksy, modestly entertaining new stage adaptation of Isak Dinesens short story, now getting its West Coast premiere at Lambs Players in Coronado, the place plays host to the meal of a lifetime. (Particularly for these 19th-century locals, who have spent their lifetimes dining on bread soup.)

That feast becomes the zenith of a story that explores the conflicts and commonalities between the sensual and the spiritual, as it follows the journey of a destitute French refugee whos embraced by a pair of pious Norwegian sisters.

The show takes its time, though, to work up momentum toward the big eat. That owes at least partly to the structure of the original by Dinesen the pen name for the Danish writer Karen Blixen, whos best-known for her memoir Out of Africa.

Babettes Feast which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, as was Out of Africa leaps forward a little jarringly in big chunks of years. And the ensemble-based, story theater"-styled piece, for all its ultimately warmhearted charms, is also a little light on character exploration and heavy on narration that can feel dry and distancing at times.

But at Lambs, stirring vocal harmonies, Diana Elledges brooding and beautiful cello accompaniment and some winning performances among the 10-member cast help lift director Robert Smyths production.

The show also has an ideal Babette in Yolanda Marie Franklin, who brings to the piece a quiet reserve and sly humor that blossoms into radiance when her character, who has devoted herself to the art of cooking, begins creating her masterwork.

Most of Franklins cast mates take on multiple roles in the 90-minute, no-intermission work, which was conceived and developed by Abigail Killeen and adapted by Rose Courtney (the piece premiered in Maine before heading off-Broadway for a short stint in 2018).

At storys center at least until Babette finally arrives are sisters Philippa and Martine, played by Caitie Grady and Rachael VanWormer, respectively, in the characters younger incarnations. Their stern father (Jason Heil) founded the towns dominant religious order and has raised them to do good works.

While they attract some fervent suitors most notably the military man Loewenhielm (Ross Hellwig as the younger version, Rick Meads as the elder) and the wandering opera star Papin (Charles Evans Jr.) the sisters ultimately remain unmarried.

The ensemble of Babettes Feast at Lambs Players Theatre.

(Ken Jacques)

There are affecting scenes, though, between Grady and Evans (a real-life married pair) as they sing gorgeous duets during Papins vocal lessons. Those sequences are of a piece with Elledges inspired cello renderings of a score music-directed (and in some instances composed) by Deborah Gilmour Smyth.

Cut to decades later, when Philippa and Martine (now played by Gilmour Smyth and Kerry Meads), take Babette into their fold after she collapses on their doorstep.

And then leap ahead another dozen years, when the still-mysterious Babette who has become the sisters cook and something of a town treasure finds herself with the means to whip up an epic French repast.

The show finds its footing in those scenes, with their contrast between the amazed reactions of the now-returned Loewenhielm, who recognizes the meal as the work of a Parisian master, and the comically blas pose of the townspeople, whove made a pact not to seem affronted at what they fear will be a gluttonous ordeal.

Its a moment that weaves together gracefully the elements of the sacred and the earthly; even the lighting (by Nathan Peirson) seems to shed a divine glow on Mike Buckleys rustic set.

Loewenhielm says it best in a speech: Righteousness and bliss have kissed one another.

And if theres no real food in sight, the actors rapture still makes it feel pretty real.

When: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 16.

Where: Lambs Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave., Coronado

Tickets: $24-$74 (discounts available)

Phone: (619) 437-6000

Online: lambsplayers.org

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Review: 'Babette's Feast' a warmhearted exploration of the spiritual and the sensual at Lamb's Players - The San Diego Union-Tribune

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