The fools who saved Xmas
Blue Room’s Bête funny yet thoughtful; Senator’s Batbabes fun but forgettable
Two completely different types of comedy graced Chico stages recently.
Over at the Blue Room, there’s a pretty enjoyable production of David Hirson’s 1992 Olivier Award-winning play for Best Comedy, La Bête. Set in mid-17th-century France and written in rhyming couplets a la Molìere, Hirson’s comedy basically follows Elomire (Jeff Dickenson), his troupe of actors, and what happens when their main patron, the Princess Conti (Jocelyn Stringer), insists that they adopt a street actor-playwright called Valere (Jerry Miller) into their group … or she’ll cut off her support.
Within the first act, following Valere’s introduction to Elomire, a 25-minute monologue from Valere holds not only the other characters hostage but the audience as well. Is it possible that there could be such a vain, unconscious, infantile, solipsistic beast as Valere out in the real world? After 10 minutes of Valere’s incessant babbling, a friend turned to me and whispered, “I want to slap him!”
But things, of course, are not as simple as that. There is a seemingly darker side to Valere. And a kind of subtle naïveté present in Elomire’s character.
Veteran local actor Jerry Miller practically chews the scenery during Valere’s monologue, filling every line and gesture with seemingly ridiculous self-importance. Yet Miller also manages a kind of subtle shading that suggests that maybe Valere isn’t as unconscious as he first seems. Maybe he’s up to something.
Jeff Dickenson brings a nice streak of innocent passion to the character of Elomire, the leader of the troupe. He is clearly committed to producing quality, thought-provoking works and is understandably stunned when forced to take such a seeming dolt as Valere into his group. And even though that is just the beginning of his travails, Dickenson still manages a kind of resigned dignity throughout.
Meanwhile, back at stately Bidwell Manor … I mean, at the Senator Theater, an original production of The Batbabes Save Christmas was staged twice a night for one weekend only—an early, family-friendly version and a later, for-adults-mostly rendition. While not as hilarious as other parodies presented at the Senator—Sküby Dü immediately comes to mind—this still had its moments.
Basically, the villains from the campy, ‘60s Batman TV show—Riddler, Joker, Penguin and Catwoman (Brian Sampson, John Bertoli, Jack Dammit Int’l and Sue Reed, respectively)—have relocated to Chico, set on taking over the City Council and the local media to work their evil whims on the populace (hmmm). Unfortunately for our scheming felons, Liz (Elizabeth Kollings), the daughter of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, convinces/coerces her chum Sam (Samantha Perry) into forming a crime-fighting duo, and it’s just a matter of time until they are wham, bam, socking the villains into submission.
Apart from some spicier language and the sight of a dummy Santa Claus plummeting from high above to the Senator stage at play’s end, there wasn’t a lot of difference between the kids’ show and the late-night version. Doubtless, a lot of the references to and representations of Chico City Council members Scott Gruendl, Maureen Kirk, et al. probably swooped over the heads of most of the kids at the early show; the late night crowd was more prone to chuckle.
One problem with the production was that it seemed to drag in places. Oh, and the old Batman villains seemed unnecessary—after all, we already have the makings of great super villains in Chico: the menacing Mega Daddy, the dastardly Developer, and so many more. Homegrown villains would have worked better.
But that’s the yuletide super hero game for you.