Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Baroness is a Verbal Symphony, a True Story of Passion and Art

Dee Pelletier is pulling off a brilliant turn as Karen Blixen in The Baroness, Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair at the Clurman Theater. Karen Blixen (English pen name Isak Dinesen) was the author / protagonist in the book and movie Out of Africa. In The Baroness she is a force of nature, barely held in check by the surroundings of her home in Denmark.
The Baroness begins with the introduction of a renowned young author / poet, Thorkild Bjornvig – the Doctor she calls him, to living legend Karen Blixen. Thorkild (Conrad Ardelius) is, at first, honored by the meeting. But the business meeting soon transforms into something more. Exactly what that more is both obvious and dangerous. Thorkild and Karen begin an affair of the mind and soul. A sensual dance that isn’t consummated in the physical sense, but is overpowering emotionally. The Baroness becomes his mentor, guide and scold; pushing Thorkild through his writer’s block by forcing him to live her ideal of an artist’s life.
Conrad Ardelius and Dee Pelletier (photo by Ellinor Dei Lorenzo)
Throkild grows and flourishes under her direction. He begins to write more and morphs into a more emotionally aware individual. He also pulls out the best of Karen and sees past her façade of the Baroness. Their relationship vacillates between mentor, teacher and lover moment by moment. It is a captivating story and Dee Pelletier brings Karen Blixen alive in performance that is thoughtful, touching, compassionate and bitter in various turns.
The relationship ultimately begins to flounder on the inconsistency of Karen’s desires and Thorkild’s inability to meet her evolving demands. Benedicte (Vanessa Johansson) appears occasionally as Karen’s friend and the wife of Thorkild’s benefactor. Benedicte sees through Karen’s manipulation of this young artist, but is powerless to change the story’s trajectory.
Conrad Ardelius’ performance is difficult to judge at first. Thorkild is, in the beginning, stiff and tentative in his interactions with this famous whirlwind of a persona, which translates to a stiff performance. It isn’t until the final few scenes that Mr. Ardelius is allowed to fully break free from the constraints of Thorkild’s early life and we see flashes of brilliance in the Doctor, the man the Baroness has shaped.
The Baroness, Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair was written by Thor Bjorn Krebs, based on the detritus of the two characters' life together: the letters, stories and books about their friendship. It has been translated by Kim Dambaek, so I cannot give the full credit to either, but the combined writing flows beautifully. Henning Hegland directs this tale with a light touch, never making either character a paragon of virtue or caricature of temptation.
The Baroness, Isak Dinesen’s Final Affair | Playwright: Thor Bjorn Krebs, Translation: Kim Dambaek | Director: Henning Hegland | Cast: Dee Pelletier, Conrad Ardelius, Vanessa Johansson | website

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