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Photo: Evan Michael Woods

Amphibian Stage Hopes Babette’s Feast Feeds Your Heart


by Anne Bothwell 26 Apr 2019

Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions is gearing up for its biggest production ever…..a new adaptation of “Babette’s Feast.” Jay Duffer, the director, chatted with me about how a story set during the French Revolution can make us think about what’s in the news today.

“Babette’s Feast” started out as s short story, written by Karen Blixen, who is also known as Isak Dinesen. And it is a beautiful story. Can you share what it’s about?

JD So Babbette, a French refugee, who is fleeing war-torn France during the French revolutionary war, finds herself in a small Norwegian seaside village. And she is taken in by two sisters, Phillipa and Martine,  who are part of a religious sect, a very pious and sort of rigid religious sect.  And the story is about the interaction between these two forces.

This play has a great balance of sincerity and humor. And ultimately I think the story’s about hospitality. How we can be kind to one another and how we can fully accept those we don’t know. Or we don’t know yet.

Now, there’s a movie version of “Babette’s Feast,” from way back in 1987. It won an Oscar. It’s a gorgeous film. Maybe a little obscure, but it is still beloved by people who love food, because the depictions of Babette’s feast are just stunning. So you do you handle the food in a play?

JD That’s an interesting question. And I have to sort of talk about the play and the style of the play. This is is asking the audience to sort of use their imagination. And that’s the wonderful thing about theater. So you see no food in the play.

What?

JD Yes, so if you’ve ever seen, “Our Town,” for instance, you know the actors are miming a lot of action in the play.

It would be very expensive for us to actually bring this food in, and have this massive amounts of props for a meal.

And even if you did, because you wouldn’t be able to do close-ups and linger lovingly over it the way you can in a movie, it may not be as effective. 

JD Absolutely, I mean we’re not cinematic, we’re theatrical.  And I think there has to be a celebration of imagination in a theatrical space.  And so what the writers of the adaptation have done is a wonderful experiment in that creativity, in asking the audience to lean in and say, “Hey, we’re going to use our imagination here.”

And it’s quite effective. So even though you don’t see the food, even though you don’t smell the food, you are very aware of the clear presence of it. And I hope you still have a sensorial experience. I hope you’re salivating during the food scene.

This is the biggest production that Amphibian Stage has ever mounted. Why choose this story?

JD  I think it’s timely. When we’re dealing with daily news cycles, particularly those that involve a national discussion on how we’re going to deal with refugees, and how we’re going, as a society, to be hospitable to those that are outside of either our ideals, our religions, our borders, I think this play really asks us to look inside of ourselves and ask what kindness do you have to offer?

Not just a provisional hospitality, but a true hospitality of acceptance. Meaning I’m going to provide for you. But I’m also going to love you as if you were my own.

And that takes it to a whole level. And this is the kind of love that I believe Isak Dineson is talking about.

It’s a very spiritually driven play.  We have to remind ourselves, what good can we do. We often think we can’t impact these social issues. But we realize that we can.

All theater should be very topical.  So when we were looking at our season and knowing that this was a topic of national debate,  I think this gives some answers that give pause to reflect.

 

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