DramaNew YorkReview

The Baroness: Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair – Theatre Row, New York

Writer: Thor Bjørn Krebs
Director: Henning Hegland
Reviewer: Robert Price

Isak Denisen is the pseudonym used by Karen Blixen, the Danish author of Out of Africa, Babette’s Feast, and Seven Gothic Tales. At the peak of her fame, her writing was widely praised, her voice was heard on the radio, and her eccentric behavior was the subject of fashionable gossip. Thor Bjørn Krebs’ play explores this literary genius from a darker perspective.

We join The Baroness at the age of 62, played with grace by Dee Pelletier. She has taken an interest in the young writer Thorkild Bjørnvig, played by Conrad Ardelius. Thorkild is a poet of 29 with some success but no inspiration for his next book. It is by Blixen’s recommendation that Thorkild comes to stay with her, leaving his wife and child back at home. His lines are unadorned while hers ring with divine inspiration. He wears a baggy suit while she is draped in elegant gowns. The subtle conversational shifts in the first act, punctuated with expert gestures by Pelletier, lead the young poet toward some undefined Faustian bargain.

The production telegraphs the sinister nature of this relationship, and spells out the Greek inevitability of the poet’s fall. Blixen’s manipulation seems predatory but it is never quite clear what she wishes to gain from him. Ardelius plays a mannerly, almost wooden Adonis, hoping to get his groove back. Pelletier is a smokey-eyed necromancer, gliding through a script that wanders while trying to connect the historical dots. Vanessa Johansson plays Benedicte, another woman who takes interest in Thorkild.

Akiko Nishijima Rotch has designed a set that pays homage to Mondrian, the black and white rectangles stretching up to the lighting grid. The set lends an importance to the moments on stage, and even offers a pleasant reveal. The costumes are from the original production in Denmark by Stine Martinsen. The play is a series of conversations that explore what it takes to be an artist, and what a lifetime of creativity yields.

Runs until 24 September 2017 | Image: Ellinor DiLorenzo

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