• January 27, 2018

A Feast with Babette in Brooklyn

by Justine C.

Our evening began and ended with a feast. When I arrived at Heart’s Home in the rec­tory of St. Nicholas in East Williamsburg, the table was set with cheeses and wine, bread and soup. Friends new and old, artists and actors, musi­cians and vol­un­teers gath­ered to share food and drink, the warmth of com­mu­nity and a screening of the 1987 film, Babette’s Feast, intro­duced by Karin Coonrod, an acclaimed director and friend who is putting together an adap­ta­tion of the story for the stage.

The film, adapted from a story of the same name by Isak Dinesen, tells of a refugee French woman who arrives in a tiny puritan vil­lage on the north­ern­most edge of the world, is wel­comed by two sis­ters and works for them for many years, cooking and cleaning and keeping the house accounts. The com­mu­nity in the vil­lage, pious and yet full of petty divi­sions, is united in their respect and under­stated admi­ra­tion of Babette. By a stroke of luck, she wins a huge sum of money and asks that she be allowed to cook for them a proper French dinner, com­plete with real turtle soup, baked quail, trop­ical fruits and spe­cial wine to go with every course! The con­trast between the lav­ish­ness of the ingre­di­ents and the sim­plicity of the vil­lage com­mu­nity is striking. It seems almost nothing short of a mir­acle. And indeed after the supper, a mir­acle does occur: the divi­sions and argu­ments between vil­lagers dis­solve into love, a love that Babette, com­pletely behind the scenes in the kitchen, has made pos­sible, by her art and her gift.

Karin Coonrod’s intro­duc­tion before and reflec­tion after the film made clear that there is deep rich­ness in this story. It is simul­ta­ne­ously moving in its details (the expres­sive faces of the vil­lagers, the local men lum­bering across the heath car­rying the ingre­di­ents Babette ordered from France, the almost comic rev­er­ence with which the vil­lagers treat the painting of their deceased reli­gious leader) and in its allu­sions to the guest and the host, the ban­quet of Christ. It is a piece of art that speaks of art, that might even be saying more than its author intended. How amazing! Karin spoke full of pas­sion. I sat on the edge of my chair. The play itself was still in early stages of devel­op­ment but clearly infused with life and poten­tial.

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