by Lynn on February 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person from Talk is Free Theatre, at the Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ont. Until February 11, 2023.

Written by David Hirson

Directed by Dylan Trowbridge

Set by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Lighting by Jeff Pybus

Props by JB Nelles

Sound by James Smith

Movement by Monica Dottor

Cast: Katarina Fiallos

Amy Keating

Madelyn Kriese

Josue Laboucane

Justan Myers

Mike Nadajewski

Heeyun Park

Courtenay Stevens

Amelia Sargisson

Rylan Wilkie

A wild production directed by Dylan Trowbridge with a towering performance by Mike Nadajewski. A cautionary tale of what happens when a rich patron interferes in a theatre company’s programming and casting.

The Story. It’s 1654. Languedoc, France. Princess Conti’s estate in Pezenas (changed from Prince Conti, in David Hirson’s text). Elomire is a courtly, erudite creator of theatre. He heads a theatre company that does weighty work. His patron is Princess Conti. For years she has allowed him to produce what he wanted. Then things changed.

Princess Conti saw Valere, a troubadour, a clown, performing in the public market place and was so enthralled by his performance and sway over the people who stopped to watch, that she decreed that Valere would join Elomire’s troupe.

The only trouble is that Elomire loathes the very being of Valere as a show-off, a bombastic disgrace to theatre, a clown in the worst possible way and totally incapable of working in an ensemble. Valere was invited to dinner with the company to get to know each other. It was a disaster as far as Elomire was concerned. He leaves the dinner along with Bejart, his second in command, to fulminate about the whole thing.  He refuses to consider Valere for the troupe. Bejart produces a writ that confirms that Elomire has no choice. The Princess has decreed that Valere will join the troupe to bring in new blood to the company. She feels the troupe has stagnated. She proposes a test to see how Valere and the troupe will work together. They will perform a play of Valere’s (in which he usually performs all the parts) to see how they can integrate the same space and play.

The Production. Joe Pagnan establishes the ornate time of France in 1654 with large swaths of deep, richly coloured cloth. Louis XIV-like chairs are situated around the edges of the space. A frame in gold wood hangs above the space. A working grandfather clock is in a corner. Laura Delchiaro’s beautifully fitted costumes establish that we are in an ostentatious period in France of ribbons, bows, and rich fabric.  

With the iambic pentameter rhyming couplets of the text, La Bête of course is a wink to Molière, his acting troupe and his penchant for presenting satiric plays that poke fun at the aristocracy and hypocrisy.

One gets a sense of the wit and flavour of David Hirson’s dialogue when Elomire (Rylan Wilkie) and Bejart (Josue Laboucane) enter the anti-chamber of the dining room where the dinner is being held. As Elomire, Rylan Wilkie is courtly, erudite, furious and pointed in his distaste for Valere. ‘Cockatrice,’ ‘bombastic ninny,’ ‘dull hypocrite’ are some of the choice words he uses to describe Valere. He barely contains his rage and he slowly expels his anger in careful increments of fury. Balancing him with compassion and concern is Josue Laboucane as Bejart.

We finally see the focus of their ire. Valere (a scene-chewing turn by Mike Nadajewski) explodes onto the scene. It’s almost as if he expects applause for every movement. His costume is tattered, torn, frayed, patched, flamboyant, and sloppy with one ‘sock’ up and one bunched around his ankle. In a word, ‘perfect.’

What follows is a speech (the speech everyone will talk about) that goes on for about 35 breathtaking minutes. It’s a speech that riffs on the food, the hospitality, the host, the ‘admiration’ (not) of Valere for Elomire, performing, life, art, prayer, vinaigrette etc. It’s a speech of stream of consciousness of Valere holding court over the stunned and captive Bejart and Elomire. Nadajewski as Valere is impassioned, clear, crisp, athletic, jumping onto and off of furniture, daring, bold and eye-popping in its invention. In the course of the speech Valere has time to drop his pants, flash his bum, wash his nether regions, later pee into the wings, and generally prove, without a doubt that Elomire is right. This fellow will could not fit into an ensemble.

David Hirson has written a wild speech of such imagination and humour that he has captured the very essence of this narcissistic, self-absorbed, enthusiastic imp of a man. To say that the always gifted Mike Nadajewski has illuminated Valere to a ‘t’ is an understatement. You can also add the other letters of the alphabet that capture him in this explosion of a performance. That speech alone has audiences wondering “how he learned all those lines.” He’s an actor. That’s what he does.

Director, Dylan Trowbridge ably guides Nadajewski in the nuances, subtleties and breathless pacing of the speech as well as the whole performance of the play. There is wit, focus, fun poked and truths told in this production.

Valere is fearless to all but the Princess Conti, a commanding Amelia Sargisson. She is the only one to get Valere to shut up. She is the only one to demand that he do his one man play with the others in the ensemble, who will play all the other parts. This of course turns out to be little more than bit parts for them and another reason for Valere to let loose.  

David Hirson has presented a fascinating argument about theatre: What kind should be done: the populist kind of theatre espoused by Valere, that reveres the mediocre and show-off or the esoteric, intellectual theatre of Elomire that aims for loftier, intellectual heights. The Princess weighs the arguments of both sides and makes a decision as to the kind of theatre she will fund in future.

It’s interesting that to the Princess there is only one or the other kind of theatre to be funded, not both. It won’t escape many that a mix of both is ideal; the popular funds the less popular fare. I loved that David Hirson gets us to ponder that.      

Comment. La Bête is a challenging play to do. It requires a large cast. The iambic pentameter rhyming couplets require a skill and finesse of its cast. It takes a special kind of actor to play Valere to reveal all the nooks and crannies of his wild speeches and still keep a grasp on that huge character. Fortunately Talk Is Free Theatre is a place that does this kind of work, beautifully, as a matter of course, and Mike Nadajewski proves he was born to play Valere, and any other character he choses to play.

Talk is Free Theatre Presents:

Runs until February 11, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes. (1 intermission)

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