La Bęte at Arts West
Also see David's review of Rounding Third
There is no lack of ambition in ArtsWest Playhouse's choice to produce David Hirson's critically lauded Broadway failure La Bęte as the closing production of its present season. However, I must confess to not knowing whether I liked Hirson's script or not, put off as I was by director Walter Baker's gratingly brash and busy production.
This Moličre-inspired story set in 17th century France pits dignified, stuffy Elomire, the head of the royal court sponsored theatre troupe, against the foppish, frivolous street entertainer Valere, whom the troupe's patron, Prince Conti wishes them to bring aboard. Despite Elomire's violent objections, the company is forced to perform one of Valere's own plays with him to decide the matter, which results in dramatic changes to the future of Elomire, Valere and the company itself.
As Valere, Nick DiSantis' performance is unrivaled in my recent Seattle theatregoing for its sheer bravura, commitment, and bristling yet carefully modulated energy. His Valere delivers one of the modern theatre's most demanding solo monologues, which dominates and overwhelms nearly everything else in act one. Act two allows DiSantis a breather early on, allowing for some strong work and interaction between Beth A. Cooper's uncompromising and proud Elomire and Gavin Cummins' capricious but not buffoonish Prince Conti. This yields to the arrival of the rest of the company, who unfortunately seem to have been directed by Baker to play as broadly and bizarrely as possible, just shy of playing the inmates who put on the play in Marat/Sade. Rather than being won over by Valere's raffish street theatre antics, they seem to capitulate to it right away, and this can't have been playwright Hirson's intention. Amidst all the excess, I still found moments of merit in the performances of Kate Witt, Paul Custodio, Wynne Earle, and John Bartley. I also found Cooper's quietly moving final dialogue, and especially DiSantis' moments when he dropped the clown masque, most effective and welcome contrasts to the general tenure of the production.
Deborah Skorstad's costumes are lovely and ornate, and Will Abrahamse's unit set design is quite handsome. It took me many years to get to see La Bęte, and actually I'm still not sure I have, given the heavy handed approach to the storytelling in this production. I may just have to read the script now, just to see what I really think of it.
La Bęte runs through April 29, 2006 at 4711 California Ave. S.W. in West Seattle. For further information go on-line at www.artswest.org.