The third show PJ and I saw in New York was La Bete, a 1991 play that takes place in seventeenth-century France. David Hyde Pierce plays Elomire, a stuffy playwright attached to the court of a princess, played by Joanna Lumley. When a new playwright catches the princess’s eye, Elomire must figure out how to convince her that her new favorite is, in fact, an idiot rather than a genius. Mark Rylance plays Valere, the buffoonish newcomer.

Here’s a taste of the broadway production:

Basically, this is a play about plays. I tend to enjoy this sort of work, and I generally enjoyed La Bete. The first thing you notice is the set design. The walls of shelves with books is definitely impressive. I was a little skeptical at first — a busy set can sometimes overwhelm the action. But that didn’t happen in this play. There’s only one location in this relatively short comedy, so having a more detailed set works well.

David Hyde Pierce is very good in his role as the solid playwright who tends toward the tragic. He is not amused by Valere’s rise. To the contrary, he sees his rival as the very epitome of lowbrow, inane entertainment that cheapens the theater rather than elevates it. This view gives the play its primary relevance — it rehearses many of the same arguments various people make today about the debasement of culture due to television, bad pop music, and broadway shows based on second-rate movies.

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