He’s been described as the new Olivier, but I don’t recall Olivier ever taking on the Jerry Lewis role in Boeing Boeing or playing a street clown who spits, farts, and spews rhymed couplets of narcissistic nonsense in La Bete.
Mark Rylance has done that — and more — throwing himself fearlessly into anything that lets him show his healthy love of theatrical playfulness.
In La Bete — the revival of a play that failed almost 20 years ago on Broadway — he’s a 17th-century French buffoon who speaks in 20-minute or so monologues that he makes riveting, hilarious, and likable, even though his character uses works of literature for toilet paper.
It’s not his fault that the play can’t fully sustain itself, and though it’s about a battle between style and substance, it tips more towards style in its presentation.
Who cares? Even when his character becomes a bit tiresome, Rylance is surprising and funny, as are his co-stars David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley (the AbFab lady who’s a scream when she and her doll throw a very bizarre tantrum).
The audience leaps to its feet at the end, thrilled to have at least seen an attempt at high art. With low farts.