“Festen” produced by New Century Theatre Company

There are times when I am reminded how lucky I am to live in Seattle. Attending “Festen” the other night was one of those times. So much talent to produce it! Such impeccable acting! Such an overwhelming play! Such brilliant direction by Wilson Milam!

“Festen” is a tragedy on the level of the great tragedies of western theatre. Adapted for the London stage by David Eldridge, it originated in 1998 as a Danish film and is called “The Celebration” in English. Oh there’s gaiety here. It’s a celebration of the 60th birthday of the family patriarch. His wife, his children, his close colleagues are all gathered. Yet below the glad hands, the slaps on the back, and the honorifics, lies a gut wrenching evil. And one son dares to expose it when his turn comes to honor his father.

What the father had done is despicable, but, on another level, so too is the behavior of

Bradford Farwell as the father Photo by John Ulman

Bradford Farwell as the father
Photo by John Ulman

his family and colleagues who willfully ignore the revelation. They gather the next morning for breakfast. The mood is light. There are no outraged denunciations. It’s just a normal day with everyone behaving, for a while, as if nothing’s happened, kind of as the citizens of Germany did while the Nazis were carting away their neighbors. One critic has called it “moral inertia.” It’s an evil that so easily spreads through a society.

Bradford Farwell as Helge, the birthday boy is ramrod straight throughout. He smiles as he is lauded, initially shows no emotion when he is accused. Amy Thone as his wife is a body absent a soul. She walks, she sometimes talks, but there’s no there there. It’s an amazing performance of someone who has paid a heavy price for knowing but doing nothing.

Then there’s brother Michael played by MJ Sieber. He’s a loudmouthed, vulgar, misogynist who should be arrested for cruelty to his wife. But then watch his face during the accusation scene. Tears roll down his cheeks; his nose runs; he’s exhibiting what the rest of us feel, or should feel.

Connor Toms as Christian, the accuser who has been grievously harmed, shows some of the robotic qualities of his mother. His emotional reserve, which appears almost pathological, vividly proves that the wounds of his childhood have crippled the man.

Powerful theatre? Oh yes, overwhelming theatre, the kind that comes only when play, production, and the acting are outstanding. If you love theatre, don’t miss this.

Through Nov. 21, at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 954-0296 or info@wearenctc.org).

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