The current show at The Gamm Theatre is David Hirson's 1991 broad farcical comedy, "La Bete" which in French means "the beast" or "the fool". The play takes place in 1654 at Prince Conti's estate in Pezenas, Languedoc, France. It pits a high-minded and haughty playwright and director of great artistic integrity, Elomire ( an anagram for the great comic playwright Moliere) against Valere, a vulgar, megalomaniacal street clown who panders to the lowest common denominator. Hirson uses rhyming verse, ruminating on art's relationship to commerce and language's ability to communicate and confuse. Elomire who has a plum job leading a 17th century acting company survives through the patronage of the mercurial, Prince Conti. The Prince forces her to accept a buffoon of a street performer, Valere upon her troupe, she is forced to choose between a life of poverty for the sake of her art or to sell out for the comfortable life. It shows the current day struggle about the push and pull between true art and popular entertainment. The Prince forces Elomire to let Valere perform his play with her troupe joining in and acting with him and enjoying it. This Tony nominated play is directed magnificently by Fred Sullivan Jr., a 22 year veteran actor at Trinity Repertory Theatre. He molds his performers perfectly in this comedy of manners and chooses the best people for this roles. Fred's direction elicits many laughs and his blocking is splendid with the utilization of every inch of the stage and the playing area into the audiences. His expert direction and his talented cast win a well deserved standing ovation at the close of this superb laugh out loud farce.
Fred makes every laugh line count especially in Valere's long monologue in the first act. He moves the other two performers who listen to this 20 page monologue, keeping the show interesting as well as having them react to his pompous diatribe. The set design and the gorgeous 17th century costumes are by the multitalented, David Howard. Valere's second act gold lame outfit is stunning as is the gaudy blue outfit for the Prince. The absolutely beautiful fresco on the wall is breathtaking and it is a hoot when Valere writes on it. The two original busts on the set were made by Americo Carroccio.
Tony Estrella gives a tour de force performance as Valere. His 28 minute monologue is fantastic with him showing variety and range of emotions while doing so as well as making all his one liners count throughout the rest of the show, too. Tony's facial expressions, slapstick and schizophrenic behavior ( talking to himself aloud and slapping himself in the face) are perfect and so is his boundless energy as he climbs on a chair, a table, onstage and offstage into the audience. He wins the approval of a very appreciative and constantly laughing audience and his made up words are hilarious, too including naming the chair, Francesca. Bravo on a job extremely well done. Elomire is played by Jeannine Kane. She is dressed in black so that the audience knows she is the villain of the piece. Her character's pompous behavior and philosophical lectures are wonderfully done. Jeannine has some comic moments in the show especially when she goes to hit Valere over the head with a chair. Her second in command, Bejart is well played by veteran actor, Sam Babbitt. Bejart is a humpback who Valere makes fun of during the show. Sam shows the character's indecision with the argument between the two of them but finally makes the right decision to save the whole troupe even though he doesn't like Valere personally. Sam shines when he gets to do a comic turn in Valere's play where he dresses up as a crippled little girl in a blond wig. What a hoot! Another strong performance is given by Steve Kidd as Prince Conti. He enters the stage with a huge bouffant wig, powder blue outfit and high heel shoes. Steve is extremely humorous as the demanding prince but gets to show off his authoritative side when he makes his decision about Valere joining the troupe.
Another hilarious turn is given by Casey Seymour Kim as Dorine, the maid. She runs in and out like a whirling dervish, doing charades while only saying words that rhyme with blue, new and shoe. Rounding out the rest of the cast of crazies is Joan Batting, Ben Johnson, Karen Carpenter, Deborah Jackson and Jim O'Brien. So for a an evening of constant laugh out loud moments, be sure to catch "La Bete" at the Gamm. Tell them Tony sent you.