Updated Moliere Farces Go to Mall With Talented Crew
While shopping for clothes at the mall, have you ever suspected that the salespeople were unavailable to help you because they were deeply consumed by some personal drama? Sure, OK, but did you ever think they were enmeshed in a complicated Moliere farce?
“Malliere,” the Cornerstone Theater Company’s updating of three Moliere comedies, imagines the possibilities. The company performs three vastly updated short plays (based on “Sganarelle, or the Imaginary Cuckold,” “The Forced Marriage” and “The Flying Doctor”) in a borrowed room on the third floor of the Santa Monica mall.
The setting: the Look, a store that (as designed by Lynn Jeffries) so credibly resembles the Gap you may find yourself wanting to browse onstage during intermission. As the peripatetic Cornerstone Company has always understood, context matters: With the real world of the mall just yards away, the hyperventilated dramas enacted by the Look staff of love thwarted and infidelity imagined rise to comic heights of human triviality.
Unfortunately, this happens only periodically. As she did with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” writer Alison Carey translates a great writer’s sensibility into ultra-contemporary California-ese. She and director Bill Rauch, however, have less success in turning these three farces into one sustained piece of theater. “Malliere” has a scattershot feel, not helped by the fact that one play is in verse and the others aren’t. But, in its best fragments, “Malliere” is delightful.
As usual, the cast creates its own mock-amateurish brand of acting--acting so overstated it comes out the other side of bad as good. It’s always great to see Christopher Liam Moore enter his own intense ether. Here he plays an anguished surfer dude so stupid he calls his girlfriend Yvonne, “Why-Vonne,” and switches effortlessly to a sweet gay man hoodwinked into marriage by an avaricious louse. Shishir Kurup lends that louse an aura of delectable slime, then switches to become a worried Indian woman who schemes to stop her daughter from being a lesbian.
Page Leong has a great bit as a phone psychic, and Benajah Cobb, Armando Molina and Regina Byrd Smith all have amusing moments.
Almost as much fun as watching this talented crew was spying the teenage girls in the audience at a Sunday matinee, with their shopping bags and perfect shiny hair, seemingly unaware that these absorbing tales of mall girls and boys emanate from a 17th century farceur of the first order. At last, we have a mall where you can buy socks and watch a French farce, too. Santa Monica has just become a more cultured place.
* “Malliere,” Santa Monica Place Shopping Center, Level 3, Community Room, 4th Street and Broadway, Santa Monica, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3 p.m. Sign interpreted on Oct. 19, 8 p.m. Ends Oct. 27. $14.99 (Thursday, pay what you can). (310) 449-1700. Running time: 2 hours.