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THEATER | REVIEW

Delightfully suffering for their art

`La Bete' hits all the right notes in its Sacred Fools Theater staging.

July 14, 2006|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

"Mediocrity is bound to thrive / While excellence must struggle to survive." That pedantic truth grounds the sublime antics of "La Bete," 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 celebre on Broadway, "La Bete" 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 Bete'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 Moliere) 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.

*

'La Bete'

Where: Sacred Fools Theater Company, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Also, 8 p.m. Aug. 3. No show July 29.

Ends: Aug. 5

Price: $20

Contact: (310) 281-8337, www.SacredFools.org

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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