David Hirson's magnificent play La Bete opens on Broadway Thursday night in a production that is everything his brilliant script deserves. I've been lucky enough to see it twice--first in London over the summer and just recently again in previews here in New York. Quite simply, this play does it all. The writing is exquisite, the performances hilarious (and moving), and the staging smart and powerful. Honestly, anyone who has the means would be a fool to miss this production. They'll be talking about it for years.
There's also a meta drama at work here. La Bete
was on Broadway once before, in a now infamous 1991 production that Frank Rich
quickly put out of its misery. That older production, Rich wrote, "deteriorate[d] into an almost insufferably smug example of the exact middlebrow fluff it wants to attack."
I dare predict Rich will have a very different reaction to this revival. Director Matthew Warchus nimbly weaves together Mark Rylance's sublime buffoonery, Joanna Lumley's wounded ferocity, and David Hyde Pierce's tragic (and comic) indignance into a fabric so complex that the audience laughs hard as it wrestles with big and terrible questions about artistic integrity, personal sacrifice, and the marketplace of ideas. I suppose the main reason I am so full of superlatives here is that the play spoke to me personally. It resonated with my own inner dialogue as a writer wanting to make a unique contribution but also wanting to please, needing to say what I have to say but also needing to earn a living. La Bete is a beautiful piece of art about the existential traps built into making beautiful art.
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