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'La Bête’ by David Hirson

Presented by Talk Is Free Theatre and now onstage at Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Presented by Talk Is Free Theatre and now onstage at Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Joe Szekeres


‘A rollicking, side-splitting, laugh-out-loud high-style comedy presented by crafted stage artists. ‘La Bête’ is terrific.’

The time is 17th century France. Playwright Elomire (Cyrus Lane), with his second in command Béjart (Richard Lam), and their acting company have found favour with the Princess (Amelia Sargisson) and enjoy the lifestyle that comes with this patronage. However, the Princess has grown tired of Elomire’s acting troupe and finds them mundane and boring. To combat this, she has selected Valere (Mike Nadajewski), a full-of-himself, swaggering braggart, to join the acting troupe and instill some new blood into their travelling plays. High comic voltage sparks as Elomire cannot stand the sight of Valere and what he represents in the theatre world. To that end, a decision is made to perform ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ (one of Valere’s plays) in front of the Princess to show her just how unhinged and what a beast of a man Valere is. (thus, the reference to the translation of the title)

That’s all you need to know about the plot. Be prepared for a terrific evening of theatre.

I saw the production in Barrie last year. It was a rollicking and welcome addition on a very cold winter night.

This time, the production is tighter thanks to director Dylan Trowbridge’s observant eye for utilizing every inch of the stage and the auditorium to maximum effect. Joe Pagnan and JB Nelles have again finely created a set design of colours, textures and fabrics reminiscent of a 17th-century French palace drawing room beautifully highlighted by Jeff Pybus’s lighting. The slightly askew large frame suspended high above the stage indicates that the scene playing below does not align with perfectly caught moments in pictures.

James Smith effectively times his sound designs to the comic action on stage. Laura Delchiaro has carefully captured the 17th costume choices, from the pristine look of the Princess’s gown to the dishevelled and filthy appearance of Valere’s clothing. I especially liked Valere’s uneven sock length and the baggy, un-kempt costume. It says so much about how looks can be deceiving if one is willing to see beyond the superficial.

David Hirson’s script is not easy to stage. For one, the wordplay within the text’s rhyming verse could be deadly if mishandled by artists who don’t understand how to incorporate iambic pentameter structure both in delivery and enunciation.

That doesn’t occur here under Director Trowbridge’s watchful eye in sight and sound. He ensures continued reason, purpose and intent behind every action and reaction of the characters. The required and necessary frenetic pacing never appears to veer out of control.

It is the performances that make this opening night a VOICE CHOICE. This marvellous ensemble is a theatre treat.

As the leaders of the royal acting troupe, Cyrus Lane’s Elomire and Richard Lam’s Béjart firmly represent the stability of what the theatre represents in the court. The fact that Elomire is clothed entirely in black becomes a reminder of how things have become lifeless in the acting company. There is more colour in Béjart’s costume. Still, his yes-man mentality toward his superior, Elomire, strongly indicates that both are cut from the same cloth regarding their laissez-faire understanding of what the artist represents in royal life.
However, Lane and Lam ably complement the daring craziness behind Mike Nadajewski’s bold and extraordinary Valere. Lane and Lam never upstage, and that’s a good thing. Instead, their silent looks and reactions toward Nadajewski become a reminder of how high comedy works when it is handled by artists who understand what must occur.

Amelia Sargisson is a fickle and flighty Princess who can be easily swayed. She is aware that Valere is out of the ordinary. When she is forced to listen to Elomire’s logical reason why Valere must not become part of the acting troupe, the Princess begins to re-think her stance. However, Sargisson also shows as royalty, she is still in control of what happens in court. When she raised her authoritative voice as Elomire and Valere quarrelled, Sargisson made me sit up momentarily because I could sense who was in control. It’s not the arguing men; it’s the Princess.

Madelyn Kriese, Courtenay Stevens, Amy Keating, Justan Myers and Katarina Fiallos are important supporting characters who become reminders of the importance of the nature of art and art in society. Their opening dance number at the top of the show courtesy of Movement Assistant Monica Dottor is a reminder of the gentility of the era. It drew my attention to the story quickly. The ensemble’s performance in Act 2 of ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ is decent and sound because they remain in synchronicity with each other as the play within a play is told.

Mike Nadajewski becomes one of the reasons to rush, steal, beg, borrow, or do whatever you can to get tickets and see this performance.

Upon his first entrance in Act One, Nadajewski inventively performs his opening monologue of almost twenty-five minutes with élan and fervour. It’s an absolute joy to watch an actor who truly understands what he’s saying and, most importantly, how to deliver it. Nadajeweski’s Valere remains vulgar, crude, and lascivious. Still, there’s also something inherently engaging and charming about the character that made me silently applaud every time he is on stage. Why? Nadajewski shows Valere to be a genius in his art and love of the spoken word behind all that bravado and buffoonery.

And yet, the conclusion of the production is quite touching. There was complete silence in the auditorium. I was on every word uttered.

That’s why I go to the theatre.

‘La Bête’ is an absolute must-see.

And Another Thought: The Harbourfront Centre website describes ‘La Bête’ as an outrageous commentary on the nature of art and the artist in society. It’s the word ‘outrageous’ that makes me think more. Yes, playwright David Hirson explores some outrageous behaviour of some characters within his play.

Nevertheless, is it also outrageous how we respond to the nature of art and the individual whom we know is gifted? Are we doing enough for those who are gifted in any respect to make us appreciate our world even more?

Watching this opening night performance made me understand the validity of this statement.

Running time: approximately 2 hours 20 minutes with one interval/intermission.

‘La Bête’ runs until March 16 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queen’s Quay West, Toronto. For tickets:

TALK IS FREE THEATRE in presentation with Harbourfront Centre present
‘LA BÊTE’ by David Hirson

Director: Dylan Trowbridge
Assistant Director: Tess Benger
Set Design: Joe Pagnan
Assistant Set Designer and Props: JB Nelles
Costume Design: Laura Delchiaro
Lighting Design: Jeff Pybus
Movement Assistant: Monica Dottor
Stage Manager: Sam Hale

Performers: Mike Nadajewski, Cyrus Lane, Richard Lam, Katarina Fiallos, Amelia Sargiasson, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens, Madelyn Kriese.

(Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured Mike Nadajewski as Valere)

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