Lachlan Apple, Atticus Haden, Nate Brantley, Sophia Hyde, & Char Meeley in Le Bête. Photo: J. Tyler Franklin
Written by David Hirson
Directed by Charlie Sexton
A review by Regina Harris
Entire contents are copyright @2024 by Regina Harris. All rights reserved.
I never studied French, so I had to look up the translation of “la bête” when I was tasked with reviewing this play at Commonwealth Theatre Center; additionally, a quick internet search informed me that Le Bête is a modern play set in the 17th-century French court. My kids all attended CTC (nee Walden Theatre) so I expected it to be well done, after all, my own kids’ performances were nothing short of brilliant, for being a cast populated with high school students. But I wasn’t prepared to be so superbly entertained.
As it turns out, La Bête translates into “the beast” and from my perspective, this play written entirely in rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter presents a beastly challenge in terms of dialogue which nonetheless flows trippingly off the tongues of these extremely talented young people. And at breakneck speed, they all rival almost any adult actor well-versed in Shakespeare.
Out of the gate, Char Meeley as the leader of a court troupe, and her second in command, Bejart (Nate Brantley) storm onto the stage hotly debating their patron’s desire to incorporate a second-rate street performer into the company, vehemently opposed by Elomire. Ambiguous Bejart doesn’t want to alienate their patron by dismissing his wish out of hand and encourages her to give the guy a chance. Enter Lachlan Apple, who astounds as the obnoxious, bloviating, ridiculously pompous, and super-cringy troubadour, Valere. Displaying an embarrassing lack of self-awareness and pseudo-intellect, Valere extolls his perceived virtues as a supremely talented actor, playwright, and inventor (of new words, no less; move over Shakespeare) Apple hilariously – and flawlessly – recites what must have been many pages of script for I don’t know how long as it was completely mesmerizing. All three of these young actors were so enormously engaging, that I’m sure I gaped like a codfish during the entire first act.
I truly wondered if the second act could match the first, but when court patron Prince Conti (Atticus Haden) charged onto the stage with all the supercilious flamboyance befitting an entitled royal, we, the audience, lost it. Haden’s performance was perfectly on point. He brought his own brand of cringe to whatever the dialogue called for, be it comedic one moment or scary the next.
I had almost forgotten there were five other actors in the production when they appeared later in the play. They had comparatively brief stage time, but their performances were nonetheless impactful. They perfectly nailed their part of the story with grace, humor, and poignancy. I had to keep reminding myself these actors were not even out of high school. Their mastery of the complex material is likely due to Charlie Sexton’s excellent direction. He shared with the audience that he had been wanting to produce this play since first seeing it at Actors Theatre in the early ’90s. Sexton has waited a long time to tick this play off of his bucket list, and he should be very pleased with the result.
All other aspects of the production were, as always, top-notch. The costumes were lush and the set was simple but enormously effective. Light and sound were as competent as any of our professional companies. But is the acting that makes production well worth your time and the ticket cost.
Featuring Lachlan Apple, Char Meeley, Nate Brantley, Eli Turner, Trace Henderson, Anya Cullen, Wilson Young, Kaileigh Chesman, Atticus Haden, and Sophia Hyde.
January 19, 20, 26, 27 @ 7:30 PM
January 27 @ 2:30 PM
Commonwealth Theatre Company
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Regina Harris has lived in Louisville for nearly three decades and has worked for many of its premier theatre companies and venues. She earned a degree in Humanities from the University of Louisville and currently works as a Youth Development Specialist at United Crescent Hill Ministries. To express her love for great food as well as Louisville’s history and architecture, she is a tour guide with Louisville Food Tours.