La Bête: What is Good Art?

Photo courtesy of Jim Carmody.

Many people consider verse to be difficult to comprehend. Finding a human who’s read through anything by Shakespeare since high school is a rarity (not including people who have an affinity for theatre, they’re a special breed). But in this new rendition of the play, La Bête, by David Hirson, the UC San Diego Theatre community has breathed a new life into this speech pattern. This show brings its audience to tears of joy, because not only is it easy to comprehend, but it’s egregiously entertaining.

The play is about the Princess Conti, who invites a street performer (known for being over-the top), Valere, into her royal court theatre troupe. Elomire, the troupe’s leader and playwright, is outraged by Valere and immediately schemes to get rid of the new actor. Princess Conti must choose between her long-time acquaintance and newfound talent. She decides to make the troupe perform her favorite Valere play in order to help her choose. “With a monosyllable speaking maid, a demanding Princess, two artists from opposite sides of the stage, and a hunchback…there’s no telling what will arise from this hilariously unfortunate situation” says Mark Maltby, the Promotions Manager for UCSD Theatre & Dance.

The director, Marco Barricelli, is a UC San Diego MFA Professor, has approached this show with a great deal of excitement and understanding, and he has no fear working with such systematic writing. “I’ve been working with verse and verse plays for a good part of my career.  There is a structure to verse, a rhythm, and that had to be adhered to in this process.  I feel we can be free and a bit crazy with the production because we have a solid foundation of the verse structure on which to balance these outlandish choices.” says Barricelli, and he has approached this show with a desire to really push the limits. He was looking to direct a show with heightened language.

This show is written in iambic pentameter couplets, but this, he says, allows for the actors to explore more eccentrically with the way they portray the characters. Barricelli adds that, “The bigger and crazier, the better. By attacking those moments with a big theatricality, the subsequent quieter moments have a real currency. The play requires “big” playing because the language is heightened – the acting, therefore, had to be heightened to support the verse.”

Barricelli has spent a majority of his career working with Shakespeare, and is no stranger to the difficulties that comes along with stories written with such a specific arrangement.  When talking about the difference between the Shakespearian style and this show, he says that, “The difference might only be that with Shakespeare sometimes we all tend to be a little too reverent or – worse – we feel we must deconstruct the play in order to give it relevance.  La Bete is just great, great fun – no reverence allowed; and it is, itself, already a quasi-deconstruction, in a sense, of a Moliere style play so deconstructing it again would be pointless.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Carmody.

Photo courtesy of Jim Carmody.

The play inspired by Molière – a playwright known for his inventive and outlandish comedic voice – and takes a fresh, new spin on some of the ideas that Molière dealt with. “The play is hysterically funny while at the same time having something very serious to say about: What’s considered ‘good’ art, who makes that judgement, at what point does one sacrifice their own integrity in order to make a living, when do we capitulate in order to ‘get along’ and when do we have to ‘walk away?’” comments Barricelli. The team doesn’t modernize, doesn’t “deconstruct,” but managed to connect with the audience on a very contemporary level, due to its relatable sensibility that will have everyone thinking as they watch.

The entire team has had a blast making this show come to life. Barricelli reminisces, “We laughed A LOT in the room and now in the Shank theatre.  We’ve been silly and serious, loud and contemplative, we’ve experimented and thrown out ideas … and basically just had a good time at our work…  These student designers have been magnificent and done extraordinary work, as have the wonderful actors, who are supported by a terrific crew.”

Any show where the entire team can throw the entirety of their creative power into the pot, and really experiment with what they want it to look like and convey — you should know you’re in for a good time.

Photo courtesy of Jim Carmody.

Photo courtesy of Jim Carmody.

If you speak with anyone in the Theatre Department, you’ll hear them describe this show in awe and excitement. They gush about the glimpses they’ve seen of the costumes (There are bright colors, and large costumes), they’re pumped with enthusiasm over the comedic edge (every audience has come out laughing hysterically). The design might be sensible, but it’s only as sensible as Molière himself, which really means, as you walk into the theatre, be prepared to be entertained.

When asked how he hopes for people to react, Barricelli says, “Well, of course I hope they laugh and are delighted by the ideas put forth. I hope they go away and have their own discussions about what makes good art and why it’s important.” And fear not, sir, this show is hysterical and poignant, and doesn’t miss a beat. And I mean, it can’t – it’s in verse!

La Bête runs from February 20 – 27, 2016.

For more information about the show, check out the UCSD Theatre Page

Tickets can be purchased here or at the UCSD Theatre & Dance box office.