Times (Critic's Choice!)
Delightfully suffering for their art
'La Bête' hits all the right notes in its Sacred Fools Theater
"Mediocrity is bound to thrive / While excellence must struggle to survive." That pedantic truth grounds the sublime antics of "La Bête," and seldom has a bitter pill seemed tastier. David Hirson's 1991 look at a 17th century French acting troupe saddled with a vulgar hambone enjoys a perfectly pitched mounting at Sacred Fools.
A cause célèbre on Broadway, "La Bête" lasted 25 performances and received five Tony nominations. By setting his treatise on the perils of compromise in iambic pentameter, author Hirson not only flirts with precocity, he seduces it. Yet "La Bête's" rhyming couplets carry tart point this side of the millennium.
The titular "beast" is self-delighting Valere (Dan Mailley, in a career-making turn). The royal patron favors him and demands that playwright Elomire (Joe Jordan, never better) engage the lowbrow thespian. Elomire (an anagram of Molière) and hangdog cohort Bejart (the superb Philip Newby) reject the notion.
They should. Appearing in the Lorrain-inflected garden outside the window of designer Liam Charles' elegant set, Valere, oblivious to Elomire's sneers, seizes the stage with a virtuoso filibuster worthy of Charles Ludlam. Only the arriving benefactor (a masterful Christopher Nieman) halts Valere's tour de farce, temporarily.
Act 2 introduces Elomire's company — Jaime Andrews, Yvonne Fisher, Michael Lanahan, Dan Wingard and Heather Witt — a delicious comic unit. At the climax, their improvised joint performance with Valere upends the argument into a sober conclusion.
Director Kiff Scholl and his forces juggle riotous wit and subtle pertinence to satisfying, faintly disturbing effect. The designs shine, especially Michelle Lynette Bush's droll costumes and Mark Crowell's wacky wigs. Even the shaky conceit of monosyllabic Dorine (understudy Stacey Jackson, in for Rebecca Rhae Larsen) plays for keeps. So does this vivid confection.
-- David C. Nichols
© 2006 L.A.
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West (Critic's Pick!)
Who better to skewer a fool and his excesses than the Sacred Fools? Savvy director Kiff Scholl brings about a beautifully paced, totally disarming production of David Hirson's five-time Tony-nominated play that delights from beginning to end. Delivered in rhyming couplets with a modern sensibility, the story is witty and cerebral in addition to being just plain funny.
Elomire (Joe Jordan), the authoritative leader of a court theatrical company, has been given a writ by his benefactor, Prince Conti (Christopher Nieman), requiring that he accept a new member into the group. Under normal circumstances this would be acceptable, but the Prince's choice is Valere (Dan Mailley), an egoistic sycophant whose boorish insensitivity is further matched by his capacity for extravagant theatricality. Because the Prince's delight with Valere's talent renders him biased, Elomire proposes that the troupe act with Valere so that he can see his inadequacies. The results are surprising to all.
Mailley's superbly outrageous Valere conjures up a legion of emotions from servility to arch self-importance. He preens and poses with dizzying hilarity, often from the audience, and delivers a monologue that is, in essence, the first act.
Not to be outdone, however, is the supporting cast. Jordan delivers indignant outrage with a sure touch, clearly certain of his moral imperative. Nieman is a delightful recipient of Valere's boundless self-promotion. Also a standout is Philip Newby as Bejart, Elomire's conciliator. His lugubrious interventions between Valere, Elomire, and the Prince are artful acting at its best. The ensemble members (Rebecca Rhae Larsen, Heather Witt, Dan Wingard, Jaime Andrews, Michael Lanahan, and Yvonne Fisher) are perfect foils for the merriment.
The production is also given a big boost by Michelle Lynette Bush's costumes, Mark Crowell's wigs and makeup, and Liam Charles' attractive 17th-century set. When all the elements come together with gusto, there is hardly a greater pleasure than theatre like this.
© 2006 BackStage
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Does mediocrity always rise to the top? Is pleasing an audience a crime against art? David Hirson’s farcical portrait of a subsidized troupe of actors in 17th-century France examines these and other timeless questions confronting theater. Elomire (Joe Jordan), the company’s leader, watches as his patron, Prince Conti (Christopher
Nieman), and his own colleagues embrace the egocentric histrionics of a street performer named Valere (Dan
Mailley). Hirson’s play at first pokes fun at the seemingly pompous
Elomire, but eventually an awful truth begins to dawn on us. Director Kiff Scholl’s production is both playful and intelligent.
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Weekly Feature Article: "Tête Offensive"
Two classically trained performers
interview a potential colleague — a flamboyant showman partial to
tight zebra- and leopard-print leggings, open-chested shirts and long,
flowing tresses. The new guy prances acrobatically about the room while
discussing his favorite subject — himself. This scene isn’t a
reenactment of Eddie and Alex Van Halen’s first meeting with David Lee
Roth, but an early moment in David Hirson’s 1991 play, La Bête,
currently running at Sacred Fools. (Stages Theater Company presented it
at the Ford Amphitheater in 1993.) The setting is a French nobleman’s
home, circa 1654. Elomire (Joe Jordan) and Bejart (Philip Newby) head up
a troupe of actors who, after spending many a year in the wilderness,
now enjoy the patronage of Prince Conti (Christopher Nieman). The
artists’ world, however, is thrown into turmoil after the Prince, who
has been enchanted by the shtick of a street performer named Valère
(Dan Mailley), insists they accept the tummler into the company. Elomire,
the troupe’s somewhat stuffy, high-minded founder, is horrified by the
prospect, while the pragmatic Bejart urges compromise. The resulting tug
of war between idealism and expediency provides La Bête with its
buoyant ideas and comic rocket-thrust.
It’s easy to become lulled by
Hirson’s rhyming iambic pentameter and his play’s madcap narrative,
which re-creates the Molière-like atmosphere of classic French comedy
without the door slamming of French farce. The centerpiece of Valère’s
first meeting with Elomire (play Scrabble with his name and you’ll
come up with Molière) and Bejart is Valère’s extraordinarily long
resumé speech, in which he goes mono a mono for 20 minutes, continuing
even while urinating in the Prince’s garden. “ ‘SHUT UP! SHUT UP!
GIVE SOMEONE ELSE A CHANCE!’ ” Valère commands himself, only to
admit in the next breath, “I’ve had that said to me all over France
. . .” In Act 2, the Prince compels Valère to stage an impromptu
performance of his play, The Parable of Two Boys from Cadiz, with
members of Elomire’s troupe. It’s a hollow trifle that Elomire hopes
will bring everyone to their senses, but by La Bête’s end, the
troupe and their patron warmly embrace Valère, sending Elomire back
into the artistic Siberia whence he came.
At first glance we may think we’re
watching a fable about stuck-up, subsidized artists who get their
comeuppance at the hands of a populist entertainer. (We can almost hear
Elomire’s blood curdle at the semiliterate doggerel Valère glibly
spouts in Dr. Seussian couplets.) Slowly, however, we begin to suspect
that if we overlook Elomire’s priggishness we might glimpse something
nobler in the man, the stance of a principled loner. All the more so
after Valère, who has noted with macabre glee that Elomire always
writes freakish characters for the humpbacked Bejart to play, casts the
same Bejart as a hideous woman in his own work. Finally, when Valère’s
comments (“To be successful the play must fail”) are treated as
Aristotelian writ by the Prince, the jig is up. Valère is no wise fool
— it’s that the others are unwisely fooled.
La Bête is a tour de force of
pyrotechnical writing that also asks questions about the nature of art
and popular taste. For all his egotistical folderol, Valère clearly
strikes a chord with the Prince and Elomire’s own band of loyal
followers. Very simply, they are bored by Elomire’s starchy classicism
and yearn for something with a tan line — performances that goose
laughs and raunchy groans from their audiences. Everyone reaches out to
Elomire to suggest some form of middle ground, but the wounded idealist
decides to go it alone, “by starting on the journey once again.”
It’s a melancholy moment that perfectly ends a raucous evening.
Director Kiff Scholl’s production is
both playful and intelligent, blessed by a cast that knows the
boundaries between going to the mat with their roles and going
overboard. Mailley’s Valère combines the right amounts of naiveté
and oafishness to keep his character interesting rather than merely
annoying, while Jordan allows his frosty disdain to melt slowly enough
to allow us belatedly to sympathize with him. The diminutive Newby, in
his secondary role, turns in a quietly grand performance as besieged
Bejart; with mouth perpetually agape and eyelids at half mast, he
exhales Chekhovian weariness. In a sense he is this play’s arbiter,
and when he casts his lot in with Valère we truly feel Elomire’s
© 2006 L.A.
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David Hirson’s 1991 comedy about the creative differences behind the scenes of a French theater company in 1654 transcends its time and speaks – in rhyming couplets – to any artist torn between commercial and aesthetic imperatives. Kiff Scholl’s masterful revival features superb comic showboating by Dan
Mailley, Joe Jordan, and Philip Newby.
© 2006 L.A.
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A Fool's Bet
La Bête plays risky and cleans up.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Of all life’s guaranteed miseries, there is one that will eventually knee us all in our tender loins: that moment when we realize that who we are—or who we’ve been—is inconsequential when stacked against that hot little thang walking by slutt’n her stuff and commanding the attention in which we once basked. It happened to Michael Jordan, it happened to un-sliced bread and if it hasn’t happened to you, it will.
La Bête pretends to be a comedy, but in the end it’s this tragic lesson you’re left with, and you’re bound to end up one of two ways: drunk on wine texting anyone who will tell you you’re pretty, or determined to keep on keepin’ on with your bad self, knowing that no one will ever outdo Jordan and that sliced bread is never as warm or fresh as the mighty loaf.
The Sacred Fools Theater Company chose their current production as only a confident fool can; La Bête proves the troupe strikingly endowed and yet appeals, most likely, to a very small portion of the already small theater-going crowd. The story is set in 17th century France and centers around playwright Elomire (Joe Jordan) who has found the comfort of monogamy in the nook of Prince Conti’s (understudy Christopher Gyre substituting for Christopher
Nieman) theater pit. Elomire is refined and serious, penning thoughtful and highbrow plays for his company to perform. He’s the equivalent of the marrying type, the one you bring home to mamma. Unfortunately, the undisturbed beauty that Elomire presents is quickly fading under the intense flood-light of the exhaustingly energetic and obnoxious street performer Valere (Dan
Mailley). The Prince is bored, looking to add a player to the mix, and Elomire is none too happy that crude Valere is up for the job.
It’s at this exact moment, a mere 10 minutes into the play, when The Sacred Fools either whip it out and grin knowingly, or blush with saggy drawers stuffed full of tube socks. I’ve never seen a play’s success depend more heavily on a single performance than La Bête depends on a fiercely played
Valere. Our first introduction is a 30-minute, rambling train-of-thought monologue and it’s a relief that the job is in such capable hands as Dan Mailley’s. Teetering on annoying slapstick, Mailley chooses the higher ground in his all-or-nothing performance and wins with endearing honesty and awkward but familiar truths. He creates what seems a long-lost relative to pirate Jack Sparrow, all the while keeping it his own little unique masterpiece that deserves applause when the yellow hanky finally shuts him up, and gives the poor man a rest.
The battle between polished and cultured Elomire and the erratic Valere ensues with gifted and rhyming dialogue, ending in a showdown performance, and an unexpected, sorrowful departure by one of our leading men. We’re all left to wonder: who would we miss more?
It was a treat to sit back and play witness to the trusty Sacred Fools kicking the hell out of a play that might threaten to toss around a lesser contender. David Hirson wrote the monster and director Kiff Scholl gracefully commands it into a well-behaved pup. Still, the audience must keep a sharp ear and sharper mind to appreciate the rich language of this play. Thankfully, Mailley is not alone in his mastery of David Hirson’s rhyme; the rest of the cast humbly submit to their less flashy characters, and generously lay a brawny foundation, withstanding the weight of several wet marbles. Joe Jordan’s unselfish burden, carrying the load of the straight man, doesn’t go unnoticed, and without his stoic build no one can shine. Philip Newby plays lovable
Bejart, the token hunchback, and makes me wish we never dissolved the tradition of such golden characters. Of notable performance is Rebecca Rhae Larsen who utters a syllable here and there as the odd, young housekeeper
Dorine. It’s almost confusing that she can relay so much meaning by merely repeating such words as “blue” and “shoe” over and over again.
In the beginning, La Bête proposes the tag line, “One really has to wonder—who’s the fool?” and by the end, the answer is still up for grabs. It’s a matter of choosing between Beauty and La Bête, neither of which you want to see surrender. In any event, the Fools running the show this particular evening have nothing to worry about. La Bête is a fantastic surprise, and I’m eager to play audience member at the company’s next spectacle; they’re not only keepin’ on with their bad selves, but the Fools are also still turning heads.
-- Andria Regan
© 2006 L.A.
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you have a script that calls for the actors to speak mostly in rhymed
iambic couplets, you’d better have a group of fine performers to
accomplish the task. Fortunately, this is the case with LA BETE at the
Sacred Fools. David Hirson’s comedy, which was nominated for five Tony
Awards when first produced on Broadway in 1991, gathers a talented cast
here which is right on the mark, down to every lead and ensemble player,
presenting the best thing I’ve seen so far this year.
We’re in 1654 France, at the estate of Prince Conti. The Prince is
patron to an acting troupe led by Elomire, but the Prince has discovered
a talented but obnoxious, totally self-centered street performer, Valere,
who is to join the troupe by the Prince’s order and will eventually
challenge Elomire for leadership. It is Valere who is La Bete, or The
Beast. He is played by the enormously capable Dan Mailley. When we meet
Valere after the exposition between Elomire (Joe Jordan) and his second
Bejart (Phil Newby-good to see him again), he has a monologue that goes
on for it must be 15 minutes during which Valere expounds mostly about,
well, Valere. He is the epitome of the narcissistic fellow we’ve all
met and worked with sometime in our lives. He will represent more than
that before the play is over. We also meet the obligatory maid who in
this case, speaks in mono-syllabic words, played fetchingly by Rebecca
In Act II, we meet Prince Conti played by Christopher Nieman, and the
rest of the acting troupe, Madeline Bejart (Heather Witt), De Brie (Dan
Wingard), Catherine De Brie (Jaime Andrews), Rene Du Parc (Michael
Lanahan), and Marquise-Therese Du Parc (Yvonne Fisher). Each member gets
to expound a bit about his/her acting technique in a very effective
section. In the Act, the Prince insists that Valere is a Savant who will
stretch the acting company into new, more exciting performing
Elomire claims Valere is an idiot. They strike a deal. If Valere can
work well with the rest of the troupe in a short piece called “The
Boys From Cadiz”, he’s in, if not, he’s out. We get some terrific
ensemble work here. You’ll recognize the age-old issue that comes to
the fore during this battle of egos and therein lies the message of the
play. La Bete, The Beast, is change. Change is the beast that threatens
our complacency. There, I understood the play…I hope.
Director Kiff Scholl has done a masterful job in staging and molding the
piece, aided by this extremely talented cast. The costumes and wigs, by
Michelle Lynette Bush and Mark Crowell respectively, are brilliant. The
set, by Liam Charles, is fine as is Jason Mullen’s lighting. Take an
evening to go and enjoy this play.
The Sacred Fools theater was very comfortable, even in last night’s
grueling heat. The play challenges us to really listen to dialogue
spoken trippingly off some truly talented tongues.
© 2006 ReviewPlays.com
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The Sacred Fools theater in Hollywood presents David Hirson's LA BETE, a tale of lunacy of sorts involving a theater troupe within the French royal court.
In 17th century France when powered wigs were in fashion and snuff usage were all the rage, the court of Price Conti (Christopher Neiman) has to his disposal a theater company headed by Elomire (Joe Jordon). The Prince has known about a comic playwright and performer called Valere (Dan Mailley). Valere's ability of creating comedies as well as acting them out, is according to Elomire, not of great value. One would imagine that Valere would be witty, creative, charming, and perhaps downright amusing; a genius in the world of theater--or at least the French world of theater. Instead, Valere is obnoxious, annoying, overly hyper, and to put it a modern term, a rip-roarin' nut case! One can use any phrase to describe insanity, and Valere would fit right in. But the Prince admires his work and insists that the troupe work with him and alongside him, even if he is thought to be an idiot savant. This troupe, knowing there is more "idiot" than "savant", falls within a hard place and a rock, since the Prince would no longer want to use this troupe if they do not take Valere along! It's up to Valere himself if he would even accept this troupe to be his own, in spite of what the company may think of him and his writings!
This play is funny for many reasons. First, although the story takes place in "foo-foo" France, it's not at all stuffy. (To post 20th century patrons, anyway!) Christopher Nieman
- he was right the first time, it's Dan Mailley -Webmaster]
as Vaslere is great! His character speaks almost non stop while acting out his intentions to Elomire and company without giving anybody a word in edgewise! His performance reminds one if somebody didn't stop Robin Williams in time before he was the entire star of his own, or anybody's show! Second, the dialogue is full and rich, and very domesticated. In fact, all of the stanzas spoken by the entire cast is presented in even rhyme! Not "poetry" rhyming, but the lines rhyme nevertheless! Third and best all of, it's a Sacred Fools theater production, and this kind of lunacy falls within the formula of what makes this theater company unique, comparing to the other theater company out there presenting plays that are slightly off-kilter, but serious enough to be respected theater. Even though that LA BETE (a term that translates to "The Beast") was first performed on Broadway some fifteen years before (as well as becoming nominated for five Tony Awards in the process), it seems that it was created for the Sacred Fools, and by coincidence, it features a character that is a "sacred fool"!
Also among the cast are (in alphabetical order) Jamie Andrews, Yvonne Fisher, Michael Lanahan, Rebecca Larsen, Phil Newby, Dan Wingard, and Heather Witt.
Directed by Kiff Scholl, LA BETE is not a "beast", but a wildcat, and a funny one at that! It goes to show one that being an idiot savant is not a bad thing! In fact, it's good! At least one doesn't have to nip too much of the French wine to create. It just takes a bit of brainpower! Besides, what does one except from the French anyway?
© 2006 Accessibly Live Off-Line
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mischievous hobgoblin in William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer
Night’s Dream said it best, “Lord, what fools these mortals
be” to the King of the Fairies Oberon. Not only are mere mortals
foolish but they also have the skill to appear so when needed to
outsmart their rivals. Nowhere is this most clear as in the comedy La
Bête by David Hirson. He should have won the Tony Award in 1991
for creating this deliciously, hysterical production that will keep you
laughing long after it’s over. His characters are larger than life
filled with vivaciousness and zeal. Hirson also did the unthinkable.
About 90% of the dialogue is said in rhymed verse. Not an easy thing but
in this case, it came out effortlessly.
audience is transported to 17th century France in Prince
Conti’s parlor where Elomire (Joe Jordan) tries to persuade his friend
and fellow actor Bejart (Philip Newby) to get rid of the boisterous and
idiotic Valere, who is La Bête (French for ‘the beast’).
Elomire and his crew of professional actors were Prince Conti’s
(Christopher Nieman) main source of entertainment and the troupe’s
only financial resource. One night the Prince saw the crazy, yet
refreshing antics of Valere (Dan Mailley) a street performer. The Prince
the insane idea that Elomire will gladly accept him as a colleague.
Elomire vehemently disagrees. He finds Valere abrasive, arrogant and
completely insufferable. Ironically, this is what the Prince likes.
brings a certain joie de vivre to the dowdy troupe that lost their
creative edge, probably do because they have turned complacent in a
year. Elomire’s plan is to show the Prince that having Valere in the
group would tarnish their reputation. He proves this to Prince Conti
when he suggests that Valere give a sample of his ‘wonderful’
performance while the actors support him. The Prince agrees and Valere
quickly whips out the most ridiculous play, The Parable of Two Boys
from Cadiz and goes into character. The title alone would rupture a
vein. It’s obvious that Valere makes it up as he goes along but it’s
so damn cleverly foolish you can’t help to laugh.
don’t know where Mailley gets the strength to play such an over the
top character. He’s dressed like an aging 80s rock star with tight
clothing and wild, long hair. Still, he executes it beautifully. Mailley
is literally all over the stage. He might even sit next to you. Valere
isn’t as sophisticated or polished as Elomire. He shamelessly urinates
behind the estate and makes up vocabulary like ‘verboba’ meaning
words and ‘Francesca’ for chair because he simply likes how
they sound. Whatever Mailley is doing to keep up the intense pace, god
bless him because he does it exceptionally well.
creates a world where the vibrations of the chaotic alienate the
rational atmosphere and it will never return to its original form.
Shakespeare would be proud.
© 2006 SoCal.com
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