BWW Reviews: FESTEN makes its New England premiere at The Gamm
Festen, which is playing at The Gamm through February 12th, is a very adult drama which revolves around an upper middle class Danish family as they celebrate the patriarch’s 60th birthday. Festen is not for the faint of heart. The atmosphere is less like a dinner party and more like The Last Supper.
Along with cultural culinary peculiarities, denial has been the sustenance this family has survived on for decades. Without denial to tamp down the bitter taste of betrayal and neglect this family would come apart at the seams…and it does.
As the guests settle down for their day-long "festen" (celebration), wine poured and toasts to the guest of honor flow. Christian (Steve Kidd) stands up and tells the truth about his family, and the tragic circumstances that contributed to the recent suicide of his younger sister. And yet…the family struggles to carry on tradition as if no one noticed that their life, individually and collectively, had just imploded.
The plot, as contrived as it is, pummels the audience with emotions (none of them comfortable).
Tony Estrella directs a tight ensemble of actors who at times brilliantly share the same space simultaneously portraying three setting all set in real time, with no stage craft, just acting.
The character of Christian, in a compelling performance by Steve Kidd, is mysterious; one wonders why the son has waited so long to confront his father. Will Lyman intrigues as the initially jovial and eventually execrable patriarch, Helge. As Helge is confronted with the destruction he has created Mr. Lyman’s ready and powerful voice becomes chilling and flat.
With only a few key lines, Sandra Laub is adept at using body language and visual cues to help the audience understand where she is in those dreadful stages of grief. Casey Seymour Kim’s timing, which is obvious when she does comedy, is no less estimable in this production.
The decision to produce Festen, in its New England premiere, is a credit to The Gamm’s Artistic Director Tony Estrella. Festen demands a strong cast with no weak links. Estrella plays deliciously and uncomfortably with silence - which is its own ability.
Last evening, after the opening night performance, the cast received a rare, genuine, curtain call. The audience (myself included, without reservation) wanted to express their appreciation for a job well done - and to revel as one that we all got through it.
Festen plays at the The Gamm Theatre through February 12, 2012. Tickets range from $34 to $42 and can be purchased by phone at 401-723-4266, at the Box Office, located at 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI, or online at www.gammtheatre.org.
Photo by Peter Goldberg