Friday, October 8, 2010
La Bête ***
David Hirson's Broadway record is unenviable-- in 1991, La Bête ran for 25 performances; in 2000, Wrong Mountain lasted 28 performances. Who would have guessed that a revival of La Bête would be one of the hottest tickets on Broadway? A faux-Moliere comedy in rhymed couplets hardly seems a sure bet, but, with the right cast, it might overcome its reputation as a "cult flop." Reuniting award-winning director Matthew Warchus with Tony-award winner Mark Rylance and adding David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley certainly improves the odds. Rylance is simply brilliant as the vulgar egotistical street performer Valere. No one does righteous indignation better than Hyde Pierce: the part of actor-manager Elomire (an anagram of Moliere) fits him like a glove. Only Lumley seems out of her element as the acting troupe's royal patron: her performance is shrill and lacks nuance. (For some reason the current production changes the patron from prince to princess and the location from Languedoc to Paris.) Rylance's astonishing 30-minute outburst of logorrhea early in the play is something I will never forget. Alas, it sets the bar so high that anything that follows is bound to disappoint. Once the princess arrives and the play turns into an extended argument over the merits of "pure" vs. popular art, it loses much of its sparkle. The play-within-a-play performed by Valere and the troupe's actors is surprisingly flat. Mark Thompson's set and costumes are wonderful. Although the play fizzles a bit during its second hour, it is well worth seeing. Mark Rylance's Valere is simply not to be missed.