We’re kind of tickled that Dogme’s gone crazy, Broadway-style (but not, sadly, in full musical fashion) â€” the stage adaptation of Thomas Vinterberg‘s "Festen" has been larded up with a "Love Story" alum and Jesus Chenowith for what will doubtless be, considering the lukewarm reviews it’s received, a fairly short run at the Music Box Theatre.
Still, as Ben Brantley in the New York Times points out in his review, the film "Festen" was "unconditionally and triumphantly theatrical." How do you screw that up? Clive Barnes at the NY Post, who generally likes the production, writes that
The film featured a larger hotel and a big guest list, but in this dramatization, the latter has been cut back drastically. Along with the rich patriarch himself are his wife, Else (Ali MacGraw), a couple of sons, a daughter and daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, a grandfather (of unstated provenance), plus a few friends and servants. This change of focus seems to have affected the dynamics of the drama: No longer placed against any kind of public background, it’s now strictly a family concern.
And Howard Kissel at the New York Daily News suggests that
There’s nothing wrong with "Festen" that couldn’t be solved by having it performed in Danish with English subtitles.
Then we might imagine that something really deep, along the lines of Ingmar Bergman, was going on. Hearing the script in an assortment of Anglo-Saxon accents, it’s hard to take seriously.
Why do we care? Well, we don’t really. We do not do this "theater" thing. But may we direct you one moment to the Village Voice‘s Michael Musto (!):
But my heart sank when I realized that "Festen" was adapted from that Danish movie "The Celebration," which mixed TV-movie potboiler dramaticsâ€”child abuse! interracial love! a note from the deceased!â€”into an overheated stew posing as avant-garde drama. Fortunately, the play is hypnotically directed and works better than the film, sustaining a nicely creepy mood, especially in the silences and eerie, faraway kiddie laughs. Critics have eviscerated ALI MACGRAW’s performance, but I thought her awkwardness worked perfectly for the part of the ever smiling, monstrous enabler. Then again, I liked Sofia Coppola in "The Godfather III."
While we like the film "Festen" a lot, we have wondered if it’s a title that, without the weight of the reveal of the whole self-important, silly and admirable "vow of chastity" behind it, would hold up as well. It was a pleasant surprise â€” Look what’s coming out of Denmark! Something different! Only natural lighting! â€” even though it turned out to be, arguably, the only good Dogme title. But stripped of its lovely, grainy cinematic murkiness and put on stage, the storyline is clearly, as Mr. Musto so eloquently puts it, all "mixed TV-movie potboiler dramatics." We want to think that, despite acclaim for the original London product of the adaptation, there’s no way that "Festen"’s party would be as awful and compelling as it is laid out on ever-darkening film. We’re newly inspired to rewatch it â€” no, thank you, Ali MacGraw.
+ Festen at the Music Box Theater (Official site)
+ Haunting Memories of Daddy Dearest in ‘Festen’ (NY Times)
+ ODD DUCK FILLS THE BILL (NY Post)
+ ‘Festen’ tries fresh Danish (NY Daily News)
+ La Dolce Musto (Village Voice)