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Principles debated with comedic fervor

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LA BETE, Babcock Theatre (lower level of Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre), through Jan. 27. For tickets phone ArtTix outlets or Kingsbury Hall, 581-7100, or 355-2787. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission).

The play is set in 1654, but the dilemma is classic: Would you rather work for bozos or be out on your own as an itinerant but principled artist?

You can see this question debated hilariously in David Hirson's "La Bete." The play is directed by Geoffrey Sherman and stars Joshua Grant as an insanely self-absorbed actor named Valere.

As the play begins, Valere is dining at the country estate of a French princess. She has spotted him performing in a market and thinks he is perfect to spice up the troupe of actors she rescued off the streets and installed in her comfortable home — where they have, she believes, become complacent.

Jeremy Rishe plays Elomire, the leader of the troupe. B. Joe Rogan is his sidekick. Nearly the entire first act consists of Valere's monologue on his own personality and Grant delivers the lines (all in verse) with great comic effect, as he mugs and prances and squeals about the stage.

Even his dramatic sniffs and pauses are comic, all the more so for the disgusted and disbelieving expressions on the faces of Rishe and Rogan.

Marjorie Lopez Tibbs plays the dignified princess, in a golden gown designed by Brenda Van der Wiel. During a long exchange with Elomire, she reveals the heart of the conflict: The artist's view of his own work does not matter; she has hired him and she will tell him what is art.

Logan Black, Britany Dean, Jason Armbruster, Elizabeth Alexandra Williams and Shannon Hollinger play the other actors in the troupe. They are either shallow or practical, depending on your view. In a secondary slapstick role, Sarah Jones ably plays the maid, Dorine.

Ironically, Elomire and Valere almost switch points of view in the second act. Then it is Elomire's turn to deliver a monologue. His search for truth is so lofty that he makes Valere's silliness seem practically sane.

At least when Valere speaks of "the grave responsibility of the lyrical gift," the audience laughs. Elomire takes his gift so seriously.

Sensitivity rating: Some swearing; double entendres.


E-MAIL: susan@desnews.com