Festen (The Celebration)

festen at steep theatre

By David Eldridge

Based on the Dogme film and play

by Thomas Vinterberh,

Mogens Rukov, & Bo ht. Hansen

Directed by Jonathan Berry

At Steep Theatre, Chicago

Intensely shocking reunion drama rivets us to our core

Director Jonathan Berry has mounted a dramatization of the Danish film –Fasten (The Celebration) – that utilizes the intimacy of Steep Theatre’s runway stage to its fullest ability to impact audiences.  Festen tells the story of a rich Danish family gathered together to celebrate the 60th birthday of Helge (Norm Woodel),  the family patriarch. Before the birthday dinner, we meet the nasty, wound-too-tight son – Michael (Michael Salinas) as he verbally abuses his wife Mette (Sasha Gioppo). Christian (Kevin Stark) is the oldest son who appears to be a shell-shocked emotionally drained soul. Helene (Julia Siple) is the last living child of Helge to arrive for the festivities. We sense a long history of dysfunctional interaction  from the children yet they travel to their fathers hotel to honor him.

festen at steep theatre

The large table is set for the birthday party that features toasts, speeches, traditional Danish birthday songs all in fun honoring the beloved patriarch. But we sense an underlying tension especially from  Christian. Director Berry paces the action to slowly build the dramatic tension toward its emotional charged zenith. When Christian delivers his keynote toast to his father, everything in the family becomes unraveled as Christian makes a stunning accusation. The stunned celebrants, particularly those most loyal to Helge, continue the happy celebration despite the change in tone of the party.

festen at steep theatre

As the tension rises and the emotions erupt, the party devolves into a painfully raucous night of revelations as several family members struggle to reckon with the accusations. The play manically moves between celebration and pathos, from exploding repressed emotions to acknowledgment of long held secrets.  The acting, especially from Kevin Stark and Norm Woodel, is splendid making Fasten a riveting ensemble drama that builds into a powerful work. Steep Theatre, long a major player in Chicago’s storefront community, has another gripping theatrical work of art with Fasten. Director Berry’s terrific direction adds depth and nuance as he orchestrates the mood of the piece brilliantly. This play begs an audience- it’ll hit you hard.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: May 5, 2011

For full show information, go to the page for Festen at TheatreinChicago.

At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago, IL, call 866-811-4111,, tickets $20 – $22, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through July 3, 2011



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