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LA BETE by David Hirson

Presented by Barrie's Talk is Free Theatre at Five Points Theatre, Barrie Ontario

Presented by Barrie's Talk is Free Theatre at Five Points Theatre, Barrie Ontario

Joe Szekeres

David Hirson’s ‘La Bête’ is aptly named as it appears to be a beast of a play to mount. When it’s skillfully handled by Barrie’s Talk is Free Theatre with fine direction and a gelled ensemble, it’s that perfect comic antidote we all need now to combat the throes of a cold, dark winter.

Set in 1654, France, ‘La Bête’ (The Beast) details the upheaval in a famous acting troupe in the court of Princess Conti (Amelia Sargisson), its patron. Elomire (Rylan Wilkie), the leader of the theatre troupe, has been commanded by the Princess to allow Valere (Mike Nadajewski) to become part of the company. Elomire is disgusted by Valere and his work while Bejart (Josue Laboucane), the second in command of the company and Elomire’s friend, becomes worried about offending the Princess and thereby losing her patronage and all the rewards that come with it.

Valere’s arrival and entry into a nearly twenty-minute monologue in Act One drive Elomire into even more of a frenzy of contempt since some of that diatribe was sarcastically aimed at him. When the Princess arrives, she tells Elomire the acting company and their work have recently become mundane, boring and monotonous, and that new blood is needed. She hopes Valere and Elomire will work together to bring new life back to the ensemble and the art of performing. This discussion about the place and value of art in 1650 France is a most relevant consideration about its place in our twenty-first century world.

Uncertain of this command as Elomire senses Valere prefers to perform alone and will have difficulty working in a group, the former challenges the latter to see if he can work as an ensemble member. This test will come in the staging of ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ for the Princess.

Playwright David Hirson’s script is not an easy one to stage. For one, it’s written in iambic pentameter verse of rhyming couplets (remember those from high school English classes) and that alone requires actors well equipped in its execution. To maintain the authentic look of 1650 France, appropriate costumes must also be designed along with a set design to suggest the elegance of the era. There are layers of humorous sub textual meaning in the rhyming couplets and I didn’t catch them all because either I was laughing out loud or others were around me.

Barrie’s Talk is Free Theatre met this challenge of staging the play head-on and did not back away from it at all.

Joe Pagnan’s lush set design of drapes and fabric beautifully adorns the playing space. Pagnan has created a beautiful still scene to admire in entering the auditorium, but the huge picture frame slightly angled and suspended over the playing space indicates this story is far from perfection as it takes a slightly different turn in Act Two. An expansive-looking settee is found far stage right. A writing desk and two padded chairs are angled slightly stage right. Jeff Pybus’s soft lighting pre-show nicely sets the mood that we are in the court of royalty years ago. I really liked the pre-show music of the era so kudos to James Smith’s sound design.

Laura Delchiaro’s gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, costume designs define each of the characters from Princess Conti’s stunning ball gown to Elomire’s perfectly coiffed hair, nicely cleaned clothes and right down to spit-shined shoes, highlighted by Valere’s torn, ripped and loosely fitting clothing and cheek dirt makeup. Be warned there is partial nudity for a few minutes.

Monica Dottor’s work in staging the Act One opening number is most lovely to watch the ensemble move together in time with the music in such a way that I can imagine that might have been played in front of royalty long ago.

Dylan Trowbridge finely directs this production with pristine class and utmost wit. He juxtaposes perfectly the pageantry of what court life must have been like in Act One with the bawdy, loud nature of the meaning behind ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ in Act Two.

Amelia Sargisson captures that regal sense of nobility in Princess Conti as she is willing to hear both Valere and Elomire speak about what they bring with them to the acting troupe. When she raises her voice to the two men in frustration and anger, Valere and Elomire naturally behave and respond as if they are in the presence of royalty. As Bejart, the second in command of the acting company and Elomire’s friend, Josue Laboucane solidly reveals his loyalty to his friend by assuring him that Valere’s behaviour is crude and uncalled for. Laboucane thankfully never upstages as Valere rips into his lengthy Act One monologue. Instead, I found Bejart’s silent facial reactions and responses funnier in his silent response.

Rylan Wilkie and Mike Nadajewski remain sublime foils as Elomire and Valere. Their perfect timing in their responses and reactions to each other is pure comic gold. While Wilkie’s Elomire is stuffy, arrogant, moribund and pompous, Nadajewski’s Valere is cocksure, flighty, crude and childlike. Wilkie’s Elomire remains in stasis and inactive and moves with purpose when necessary in plot development. Nadajewski rolls, tumbles and falls all with the greatest of athletic ease and also with purpose. His nearly twenty-minute Act One monologue is magnificently executed in all its pausing and pumping of vulgarity, crudeness, brilliance and intelligence. Wilkie’s silent responses like Laboucane’s greatly contribute to the comedy of the moment.

Katarina Fiallos, Heeyun Park, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens and Madelyn Kriese impressively create a cohesively gelled ensemble who intently listen and respond to the events naturally around them without ever upstaging. Their work in staging ‘The Two Boys of Cadiz’ in Act Two is solid, especially in watching how the Princess reacts in finally understanding what the play means to her.

Final Comments: A joy and treat to partake in live theatre especially when the tickets are free. ‘La Bête’ is pure comic genius and a joy to watch.

Go see it.

Running Time: approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.

‘La Bête’ runs to February 11 at the Five Points Theatre, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie, Ontario. Tickets are complimentary but you must register for them at

LA BÊTE by David Hirson
Directed by Dylan Trowbridge
Set Design: Joe Pagnan
Costume Design: Laura Delchiaro
Lighting Design: Jeff Pybus
Properties; JB Nelles
Sound Design: James Smith
Movement Assistant: Monica Dottor
Stage Manager: Bona Peacock

Cast: Mike Nadajewski, Rylan Wilkie, Josue Laboucane, Katarina Fiallos, Amelia Sargisson, Heeyun Park, Justan Myers, Amy Keating, Courtenay Stevens, Madelyn Kriese

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