Translation by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
A Noise Within Production
Review by Phillip Kelly
There's one reason to go see A Noise Within's production of Moliere's rarely produced The Bungler; it's incredibly entertaining. The piece itself is pure cotton candy shaped by the serrated edge of the English language dictionary and seasoned with a dash of Tabasco sauce. An idiotic young gentleman, Lelie, is hopelessly in love with Celie and seeks assistance from his brilliant servant Mascarille to devise a plan that will get her away from her overbearing father so they can marry. What follows is a series of episodes in which each of Mascarille's clever and underhanded attempts are foiled by the one he's trying to help!
Why, you ask, would such a brilliant tactician as Mascarille continue to help such a complete fool who can't help but step in the middle of each concoction? That's the joy of the show. Mascarille feels it's his life's greatest challenge to overcome his employer's interfering; his boss, the man he's trying to help, is also his nemesis. Cascading from agitation to anger to joy from the thrill of the hunt is JD Cullum as Mascarille. And foiling every plan is Michael Newcomer. Like the great classic comedians of the silent era, the two work in tandem; one performance cannot exist without the other. Newcomer's blissful ignorance in every situation eventually garners laughs from his mere stepping on stage into a situation that has been so well devised. And Cullum zips back and forth from intolerant to inspired, from hatred to pity, with the drop of a hat. It's a joy to watch these two play on stage.
The production itself, directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, is a wily one. Within moments I knew she was on the right track when the cast began to sing and a live instrument appeared onstage. I love instruments in non-musicals; they give vitality to a live production that's lacking in film - in this instance it was, a very appropriate, tuba. At times the production feels like one of those old cabaret shows one might have seen in France at the turn of the century - crowds drinking beer and pushing each other around! Performers in masks ... have I mentioned the beautiful masks? The lighting was vibrant, the set and costumes detailed. Every aspect of the show only adds to the free-wheeling experience. Perfectly timed light changes elevate perfectly delivered witticisms. It all works in synchronicity to provide the highest end of shenanigans; follies for the quick witted, farce for the enlightened.
Elliott even makes the bold and rather brilliant choice to incorporate a hint of surreal science fiction into the show. I won't ruin the surprise, but it's such an other-worldly moment, it enraptures, and I must admit I found myself the only one guffawing at first while those around me stared in wide-eyed wonderment. It's a directorial decision that made my nerves tingle with delight.
The rest of the cast enjoys themselves tremendously. How could you not? Moliere has fashioned a show that's all about wit and really nothing else. If you enjoy the British sitcom The Black Adder, you're heading in the right direction with this production of The Bungler.
Create for yourself a chance to see this show. I've also seen Antony and Cleopatra, which I enjoyed very much and found some of the Elliott's choices to be strongly realized. And with the good word on The Illusion (which I haven't seen), this season at A Noise Within is a strong one.
The Bungler by Moliere. Translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. Sat. April 7th-Sun. May 27th at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107
$46 Fri, Sat Evenings and Sun Matinees. $42 Wed, Thurs, Sun Evenings and Sat Matinees. Group and special rates for school groups available. Tickets and info (626)-356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org/