Christopher John Falcioni ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
I’ve always had a very strong connection with the story of Beauty and the Beast for as long as I’ve been able to watch a screen and understand a movie. Of course, I was obsessed with Disney’s film Beauty and the Beast, which I’ve been a part of in stage form and have been able to take part in at Walt Disney World. One of my favorite books as a child was a Chinese retelling of the story named The Dragon Prince, in which Seven marries a dragon-styled Beast to spare her country farmer father, and I even read the original one when I was interested in the true story of the intelligent Belle who is looking for something more and a Beast who is hoping that somebody can see beyond his hideousness.
For these reasons I feel like I may have had too-high expectations for the Lemieux Pilon 4D Art company’s interpretation of the classic tale, La Belle Et La Bête. In an updated take on the tale, Belle is a painter who paints frightening pictures of naked people and splatters her creations with blood, brooding over her life with an estranged father and a dead mother (as nearly every fairy tale must have), and when she goes to deliver a stone rose to a mysterious man locked in a mansion, she… well, you know. The problem with the adaptation isn’t that things are set in relative “present day”, but that the show takes itself much too seriously and tries to go artsy for art’s sake. Things don’t add up – ever – and horses act as ethereal guides, the magic of the mansion conspicuously comes and goes when it can benefit the story, and a long tale of an hourglass is almost completely ignored. We’re even robbed of an actual rose or roses appearing in the story, a major plot point in all versions of Beauty and the Beast.
The actors are fine. The Woman has the most fleshed-out of her parts, though her exact purpose and abilities are left obscured and the pair of Belle and the Beast more or less remain snarky and sarcastic. While Beast is at least occasionally funny, Belle comes off as sort of annoying. As such an important character, it’s a shame that she (and the Beast) don’t really change over the course of the story; they just more or less remain the same, never really in love. Love doesn’t even really seem like it’s in play in the story, as the play seems to be more interested in the differences between love and lust as well as the prospect of lost love.
There is something to this show, though, and it’s in the amazingly jaw-dropping visuals that parade across the stage in spectacular fashion. Entire characters, like Belle’s sister (or the two sides of the same sister) are digitized to add interest and an ethereal quality, and for the most part she succeeds in bringing a dash of levity to the situation. The inner prince and the demon also both make appearances and fight the Beast, seduce Belle, with very realistic and jaw-dropping choreography.
Easily the most amazing aspect of the performance was the set. While I’m generally savvy of the special effects used in theatre and theme parks, this one completely astounded me. Nearly every effect was flawless (aside from some set-placing issues) and each effect neatly moved the story along without too much overkill. You’ll truly have to see it to believe it; I doubt you will ever find anything so advanced in any other theatre you’ll go to, nor something so spellbinding. It’s worth it to go see this production just because of a two minute segment rather early in the show when Belle attempts to leave the mansion after several visits to the mansion and she encounters a gate. It is worth the price of your admission at that point in the show. The finale is, unfortunately, a letdown, as (in an artistic decision), there is no true “transformation” effect and thus leaves a big gaping hole in the story. While one expects at least some roses and a transformation in a production of Beauty and the Beast, Lemieux Pilon goes “edgy” and, unfortunately, loses some of the most important key moments and images in the story, rendering it nearly unrecognizable. While these are minor squabbles, the effects scream of ingenuity, storytelling, and the prospect of magic.
I cry at the end of nearly every version of this fairy-tale, but I didn’t find myself moved at all at the end of this one. I left with an open mouth in astonishment of what I just saw: the rain covering the theatre, the bizarre nightmares, the merging of characters… but not a tear. Perhaps by disfiguring a classic tale from the inside and beautifying the outside, one realizes why the story is so important… it seems like a hollow, beautiful shell but empty and wanting for love.