In this strange work presented by the Scandinavian American Theater Company (SATC), written by Danish playwright Thor Bjørn Krebs and translated by Kim Dambœk, Karen Blixen, known in the literary world as Isak Dinesen, is depicted in a friendship with a much younger man. While fictionalized, the play is said to be based on reality drawn from letters, books and anecdotes.
Anyone expecting the subtitle with the word “Affair”to indicate some hot sex between an older woman (Blixen is 62 at the time of the drama) and the young poet and writer, Thorkild Bjørnvig (he is 29), will not find any such thing depicted. What we see is largely Blixen attempting to control her friend with her emotional aggression that borders on increasing desperation.
Frustrated by writer’s block after initial success, Bjørnvig welcomes an invitation by Blixen to live in her Denmark home and work there, which means being apart from his wife and child. Conrad Ardelius gives an earnest performance in the role, framed by his narration about the experience. The writer doesn’t know what he is in for with his benefactor.
Under the direction of Henning Hegland, Dee Pelletier gives a go-for-broke performance that dominates the stage. As Blixen, she comes across as an increasingly demanding harridan. On the one hand she urges her friend to line up mistresses, on the other it is clear that she would like to have him sexually, but she never makes a firm move. However, her behavior is such that any attractiveness she may have possessed is undermined by her obnoxious personality. In the course of their verbal intimacy, she confines in him a health secret, treatment for the venereal disease her former husband brought her.
Meanwhile, Bjørnvig becomes increasingly estranged from his wife. What sexual relationship that does exist in the play stems from the attraction between Bjørnvig and Benedicte, Blixen’s friend, seductively played by attractive Vanessa Johansson. Eventually the two meet in Germany and fall in love, the news of which infuriates Blixen and sends her into one of her periodic rages.
The play would gain from shortening (it is two hours plus an intermission), but the performances hold attention, especially that of Pelletier in what amounts to a showcase role for her. Audience members may wonder about what is true and what is fiction, and some may be inspired to do some research into that part of Blixen’s life. At the Clurman Theater, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed September 6, 2017.