A knockout of theatre when an obvious bore becomes enchantment
Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 9, 2016
How long has it been since you’ve been “trapped” in the same room with someone who talks non-stop about himself, believes he (or she) is the center of wisdom, and stops talking only to stuff bits of food in his mouth, spewing much of it on the floor. This might be in classroom, a car, in a business environment, or (heaven-forbid) at a family reunion.
Such a chap has turned up on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center in OpenStage’s enormously entertaining, “La Bete.” In this case the “bete” (clown, fool, obnoxious oaf) is Valere in 1684 France. Steven P. Sickles carries the load of becoming Valere, and “holds court” on center stage with rhyming verses that go on forever. He is a marvel as an obnoxious raconteur. He believes he knows everything, believes he is just about the cleverest person on earth, and ignores everyone else.
Setting is the home of a theatre troupe ensconced in France, under the patronage of Princess Conti. The troupe’s playwright is Elomire. He is a kindly sort, but also quite proud of his own abilities. He can scarcely believe his eyes when his second in command brings a letter from Princess Conti, indicating that she has seen a local street performance by Valere, a traveling troubadour. She was so impressed that she wants to add him to the theatre troupe. Elomire’s abilities are suddenly threatened. Not only threatened; but he already knows Valere, and (plainly spoken) abhors him.
Gregory J. Adams is excellent as the proud playwright, Elomire. He can’t abide the thought of sharing his spotlight with Valere. When Princess Conti arrives, it is as if time stops. Ann Russell Whiteman has probably never been more charming, clever, brilliant, or ruthless as the troupe’s patroness. She holds center stage, and holds the purse strings to the troupe under her tutelage.
When playwright David Hirson stops Valere’s rantings long enough, the story becomes a question of wills. This is a truly dazzling study. What is art? Can it become only available through financial backing? Who is to say what is good or bad? Even Valere can’t tell the difference between a tragedy and a comedy. And how binding is loyalty?
The show itself looks great. Set is effective, lighting and sound are excellent, and the costumes are a study on their own. Peter Anthony has put together an excellent group of players. Adams, Sickles and Whiteman are the stars, but have very good support from Greg Clark, Molly Hunt, Frances Way, Steve Wright, Corinne Wieben, Benjamin means, and Casey Thomas. Costume design is by Maile Horger-Speetjens, lighting by Brian Miller, Sound by Grant Putney, and the delightful and effective wigs by Kirsten Hovorka.
Hirson wrote the play in rhymed couplets, using a Moliere-inspired story. It opened on Broadway in 1991, received critical acclaim, but was not an original hit with audiences. A subsequent production in London, however received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy. The play has become a popular choice of regional theater groups throughout America.
The current production is a must-see. Gregory Adams and Steven P. Sickles as Elomire and Valere spar with each other and crave the affection and support of a daffy (but hard as nails) Ann Russell Whiteman playing Princess Conti. And everything rhymes!
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through October 1, 2016
For more information: www.openstage.com