The Inside Jokes of ‘La Bête’
by Sally Ollove, Arden Literary Manager
With its rhyming couplets, sale clever wordplay, door-slamming farce, boors and know-it-alls, David Hirson’s La Bête is a fabulous homage to the writing of 17th century comic playwright Moliére. But the inspiration Hirson drew from Molière doesn’t stop at the verse. While the events depicted in La Bête are entirely fictional, bits and pieces of Molière’s real life are woven into the fabric of the play, with references hidden throughout the script for those in the know. Here are a few:
- The name “Elomire” when unscrambled spells “Molière.” Yet, Elomire is not the real-life Molière. Elomire’s work is praised and criticized for its seriousness and its tragic portent while the name Molière conjures French comedy. Though Molière did aspire to be a great tragic actor, it is hard to imagine the Elomire who leaves the stage at the end of the play being anything other than a career tragedian, much less becoming the funniest and most transgressive writer of 17th century France.
- Molière’s troupe spent 3 years under the patronage of Prince Conti, who met Molière in school. While in residence with the Prince, Molière and his troupe were able to perform at several of his estates and live well. For a company of traveling actors who lived at the lowest end of the class system, this patronage was invaluable, bringing the group respectability and security. It was only made possible by Molière’s middle class upbringing which afforded him connections unavailable to most traveling players. In 1657, Prince Conti had a religious awakening and kicked Molière and his company out as an act of penitence.
- Elmire (not quite Elomire) and Valère (not quite Valere) are both character names in Tartuffe, one of Molière’s best known plays. Though the characters are very different (Elmire is a wife and Valére a young suitor), the names are a link, and the central figure of Tartuffe bears some resemblance to La Bête’s Valere. As in La Bête, the characters in Tartuffe can’t agree about whether Tartuffe is a hypocritical con man or a saintly wise man.
- Dorine is the name of the maid in Tartuffe. Tartuffe’s Dorine is a manipulator and commentator on what happens in the family.
- Both Elomire and Molière’s troupes included the Béjart siblings—Molière had a long-time affair with Madeleine Béjart. Madeleine and her brothers were founding members of Molière’s troupe, traveling around the countryside with him and then later establishing a theatre in Paris. There is no similar hint of a relationship between Elomire and Madeleine Bejart.
- Molière’s real life troupe also included the Du Parcs and the De Bries. Marquis-Therese Du Parc (played by Alex Keiper) was a particular favorite. Her beauty (and her scandalous costumes) won her many admirers, including the French playwrights Corneille and Racine. She was rumored to have had many affairs.
I was struck immediately by the poetry in the play. Fascinating! Scott Greer’s half-hour long tour de force was unbelievable! The other cast members were just stage dressing for Scott’s performance.
I was happy to be able to read these notes AFTER the performance. We enjoyed the play and the cast – all of whom we had seen at least once before. I like seeing actors in different role and seeing how they immerse themselves in the characters.
Nowhere on the seventeenth stage does a character give such a long egocentric monologue as Valere. Despite Scott’s best efforts–mobile face to mockery of rodomontade, his character cannot but become an annoying bore less than a third through. Since I also detected some Shakespeare in his speech, let me add “’tis too long. It shall to the barber with your beard.”
As for the title, it is ridicule: “bête” meaning “stupid” is an adjective. “La Bete” (noun, with or without the circonflex) is, and remains, “a beast, an animal” best coupled in French with “la Belle et la Bête.”
By the time he gets to his final speeches, poor old Elmire, in Peakes’s hands, is totally untragic, uninteresting. Dito van Reiigenberg is best in show, his thoughts and stance equally balanced and true to his (stage) century as well as the playwright’s forward looking message. To me, it was more like a squabble over “high art” and it’s need to progress (see the RSC’s recent production of 2 Gentlemen of Verona, recently on show at the Bryn Mawr movie, with “entertainment,” a provided by TV!, James’s role was insulting to a fine actor, leading a brilliant, underutilized troupe!
I LOVED THE SHOW!!!!! PURE GENIUS!!!!! THE ACTORS WERE AMAZING AND THE SET WAS VERY CREATIVE…… THANKS
Although the writing is clever and the acting outstanding, my friends and I found the play tedious. The “meaning” of the play was well hidden, and the subtitle could have been “Much Ado About Nothing.”
great play loved every minute of it thank you
What a wonderful prformance!!! Acting, staging and direction superb. We keep subscribing because almost everything the Arden does is of the best quality. Keep it up.
Please tell Terry that the Arden has done it again! A wonderful eminently enjoyable production of a brilliant play that should have been more successful on Broadway. Scott Greer outdid himself in combining an outsized larger-than-life role with hints of the darker side. Ian Peakes also was superb. Watching his subtle shifts of reaction to Greer’s rantings as the play progressed was a joy to behold. Laura and I are longtime subscribers and “Sondheim freaks.” Can’t wait for the next production. Continued success. Btavo!!!
The inside jokes might have helped with the play if we knew them beforehand.
Scott was terrific but his monologue!!! Too too long. It got boring. I started reading the playbill during it. If Elmire hated it, what do you think the audience did. Unless that was the purpose of it. The monologue could have been half as long & serve the purpose of the play without boring the audience.
saw it last nite.. face still hurts from smiling and laughing. Scott Greer was brilliant. Please bring him back for a revival of One Man , Two Governors.
Inside jokes are fine… puffing out what should have been a 40-minute one-act farce into a two-hour two-act production is not fine. Act 1 began funny but started wearing thin after awhile, as Valere kept going on and on and on… Yes, we get it, the writer was too self-indulgent to cut his own verbiage after it started growing stale. Act 2 was a little better, but ended with forced cynicism that is utterly alien to the spirit of Moliere, who would have had the Valere character hoisted by his own petard at the end, with a more involved story-line.
This is the writer’s fault–trying to make too much out of basically thin material that would have been better done as a short one-act farce (which could then have been paired with another short comedy). And it might have been a more satisfying ending if the maid had turned into a character at the end, perhaps abandoning her one-syllable communication (which was alien to the setting of the play) to say something sincere to Elomire as he departs alone, or maybe even joining him on his forced journey. All in all, not a bad theatrical experience, and there were some laughs, but a better writer would have created a better script.