The Gamm’s delightful La Bête
Robert Frost, loving his little rhymes, once compared writing free verse to playing tennis without a net. Playwright David Hirson might very well enjoy swinging a racket in shackles, considering the fun he’s had composing La Bête entirely in rhymed couplets. And judging from the high old time the Gamm is having with the comedy and its challenges, we should be thankful that audiences are not required to view it bouncing on pogo sticks to contribute our part.
MAKING A POINT: Kidd and Estrella.
The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre is barreling along — as in barrel of monkeys — in the farcical style of Molière (through June 18). We are in good hands on both sides of the stage, since La Bête is directed by Trinity Rep’s Fred Sullivan, Jr., a comic natural whom one suspects has been doing spit takes from diaperhood.
A crisis strikes the acting company of Elomire (Jeanine Kane), a playwright who more than coincidence makes her name an anagram for Molière. After many years wandering in the French provinces eking out a living, they have had a generous patron these past few years, Prince Conti (Steve Kidd). But the good prince thinks Elomire has gotten soft of late, penning plays that are too dense, full of darkness, and not much concerned with audiences having a good time.
Enter Valere (Tony Estrella). The patron caught his act in the marketplace, thought he was a stitch, and wants the troupe he’s subsidizing to welcome him into their ranks. Estrella lands onstage like a battalion of paratroopers and seems to be in as many places at once, his Valere making about as much noise and trouble as the 101st. In an early monologue that goes on for a bit more than a half-hour, Estrella struts and frets upon the stage like a whirling dervish who can’t find his meds. His Valere is having what amounts to an audition with Elomire and her lieutenant, Bejart. (A young Molière joined the professional troupe of Madeleine Bejart, and the gender reversals are maintained here —— though the Prince Conti that was among Molière’s patrons remains male.)
Sullivan directed Estrella in this role at Trinity Conservatory in 1995, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect the performance. Estrella is obliged to play him as barking mad — he slaps himself in punishment, scrawls words of his own invention on the walls, such as “caraboomba” as his improvement on “table.” But the actor charms us, providing a fundamentally sweet disposition beneath the would-you-like-to-be-alone self-love. This incongruity holds our interest in the same way we’d never take our eyes off a mime holding up a bank.
Playwright Hirson picks up the serious question of the play in the opening lines and shakes it for two hours like a rat fallen in with terriers. Should art compromise for the sake of commercial opportunities? Is Elomire being pig-headed, since the prince insists it’s his way or the highway and the troupe faces leaving the comforts of the court for the haylofts of the countryside?
, Entertainment, Sports, Robert Frost, More