a kate west review
by Jean Baptiste Poquelin de Moliere
translated by Richard Wilbur and directed by Jules Aaron
the West Coast Ensemble, 522 N. La Brea Avenue, Hollywood 90036
June 4 - July 25, 2004; Call (323) 525-0022 www.wcensemble.org
Now in its twenty-second year, an artistic gem of a theater, the West Coast Ensemble, consistently produces small but vibrantly genuine productions of the best quality. Their latest effort is no exception. Set in Messina, Italy of 1740, this version of "The Bungler" is an excellently appropriate translation from Moliere by Richard Wilbur.
The play revolves around Mascarille (wonderfully charismatic Steven Einspahr), the rascally clever servant to Lelie (portrayed with wide-eyed youthfulness by Joey Borgogna). Mascarille's main aim in life is to please his mater. This often proves to be a daunting task as Lelie is a bit slow-witted and often bungles the many well thought out schemes his beleaguered servant comes up with to help him. Still one has to try.
The current scheme is to win Lelie his true love, the Gypsy girl Celie (CB Spencer), currently serving Trufaldin (Larry Lederman). Through many mishaps and mistaken identities, Lelie and Celie are eventually united and all other misunderstandings and plot twists are resolved. Along the way we are entertained by the delightful cast, including the likeable and effervescent Dan Alemshah as the foppish Anselme, beautifully charming CB Spencer as Celie, the inspired comedic performance of Erika Amato as the desperately lonely Hippolyte and a solid performance by Alex Kaufman as the dashing young Leandre, in what would otherwise might have been a throwaway role. (In case you were worried, Hippolyte does end up with a true love of her own, Leandre.) Character actors Larry Lederman, Pablo Marz, Matt J. Popham and Gil Bernardi round out the ensemble quite nicely. From beginning to end, the acting is engaging, the direction impressively clever and the entertainment boundless. Everyone involved obviously enjoys doing the play.
A master of his craft, director Jules Aaron drills his actors into presenting seemingly effortless transitions, amusing asides and well choreographed sounds effects created by cast members seated upstage. The play actually begins in a dressing room where we watch the actors prepare for their roles. This fits in perfectly with the broad comedic style of Moliere and Aaron's interpretation creates an immediate accessibility. It also soundly illuminates the social satire of then and now (clever servant besting his superiors, etc.) It is very hard to pull off an impression of a play-within-a-play without coming across either woefully pretentious or clumsily inadequate, yet the West Coast Ensemble succeeds marvelously.
Scenic Designer Tom Buderwitz and Costume Designer Shon LeBlanc do their usual magnificently professional work, creating a simple, versatile revolving set and beautiful period costumes. The whole spirit of the show is profoundly sincere and light-hearted, while maintaining an acute standard of refreshing professionalism. A guaranteed crowd pleaser, this production is highly recommended. If you want become a Los Angeles theater subscriber, this is absolutely the theater to join.