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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, November 9, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Jeremy Pippin strikes a pose near a prop.

Best Bete

High-mindedness battles
buffoonery of The Beast in
Kennedy Theatre's 'La Bete'

By Tim Ryan

A decade ago, the little known writer David Hirson made his playwriting debut on Broadway with "La Bete," a clever comedy based loosely on Moliere's "Misanthrope" and written in 17th century-style rhyming couplets.

Now "La Bete," which means "The Beast," comes to the University of Hawai'i's Kennedy Theatre for six performances starting tomorrow night.

Set among an acting troupe residing on a royal French estate, "La Bete" pits the high-mindedness of the troupe's leader, Elomire, against the buffoonery of the "beast," the self-absorbed troubadour Valere.

The play, which won five Tony and six Drama Desk nominations and London's 1992 Oliver Award for comedy of the year, is a battle of wits and will, of serious vs. popular art.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Mark Branner is Valere, Jeremy Pippin is Count
Conti and Joseph Abraham is Elomire in 'La Bete.'

"It really is a funny, funny story with non-stop dialogue and banter," said Joseph Abraham, 26, who plays one of the two lead characters, Elomire. "Though it's set in 17th-century France, there is a nice, contemporary flavor and humor to it."

The conflict for Elomire is that while he strives for high art and truth in his art, the troupe's patron prince believes they're getting boring and Elomire, in particular, is becoming "stagnant."

"At first we're traveling from city to city and town to town living in poverty for the sake of our art, then the prince takes us over," Abraham said getting into the mindset of his character. "To give us more energy the prince brings in this new guy, Valere, a street clown and complete idiot who tries to take control of the troupe."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Jeremy Pippin is the Count Conti, Mark Branner
is Valere, Joseph Abraham is Elomire in "La Bete"
at the Kennedy Theatre.

The conflict in "La Bete" is simple and universal, said director Lurana Donnels O'Malley.

"Do you compromise your ideals for the sake of money or success, or do you stick to your values?

"In this story, it's high art vs. popular art, something we see everyday, everywhere."

Valere performs popular art; while Elomire seeks the poetic side and that is his undoing.

O'Malley said there are numerous relevant parallels from the story to current life. A network, like the prince, has the power to keep or cancel a quality television program that may have poor viewership.

"My instinct is to say the theme is compromise and not pursue any single way rigidly," said O'Malley, a UH professor of History of Western Theater. "Elomire's downfall is that he holds to his character so strongly he loses everything. Yet, there's dignity in that."

O'Malley said the rhyming couplets of the dialogue are "incredibly humorous."

Abraham, who graduated from the UH in May with a degree in theater, also appeared in last year's UH production of "Midsummer Nights Dream" and has appeared as an extra in "Baywatch Hawaii" episodes and in the recent HBO pilot of "Lessons Learned."

The day after "La Bete" closes, he'll be on a plane to New York City to interview for a job at Marvel comics. But acting is his dream.

"I love to draw but that hopefully will support me while I pursue an acting career in Los Angeles or New York," said the Castle High School graduate.

Interestingly, Abraham didn't begin his acting career at the noted high school but at Kapiolani Community College when he appeared in "Step On A Crack."

"That sealed the deal for me in terms of wanting to become an actor," he said. "I know it's where I am supposed to be."

On stage

Bullet What: "La Bete" (The Beast)
Bullet Place: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Bullet Dates: 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday and Nov. 16 to 18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19
Bullet Tickets: $12 general; $9 seniors, military, or UH faculty and staff; $7 for non-UH students; $3 for UHM students with valid ID
Bullet Call: 956-7655

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