Rhyming couplets and curly fright wigs and lots of facial mugging are the kind of conceits more beloved by theater-folk than theatergoers. Actors are trained on classics like Moliere; hamming it up onstage as a fop is a rite of passage.

If you like that kind of thing, I suppose La Bete at Theatre 3 is about as good as you’re likely to get. The conundrum is: Why would you like that kind of thing?

La Bete is a structural nightmare, a play about actors who hate other actors … and playwrights and critics and, to an extent, audiences. Elomire (Jakie Cabe, pictured left) is the lead actor-writer of his royal troupe and resents having the blowhard actor Valere (Bradley Campbell, pictured right) forced on him by his patron, Princess Conti (Georgia Clinton, pictured top).

You don’t get much more of a plot than that in Act 1, which is dedicated to highlighting the vocal skill of Valere — he has an uninterrupted 20-minute monologue that Campbell modulates masterfully. His Valere is a flouncy boor — imagine Zach Galifianakis in pantaloons — both insufferable and the saving grace of the show. Campbell and Clinton seem to be the only ones who don’t get cornered by the couplets, turning dialogue into the sing-songy patter of reading Dr. Seuss to children at bedtime, a sin especially committed by Cabe (It’s not a pretty show, either, with the cast swathed in costumes that look like Carol Burnett’s hand-me-downs from her Went with the Wind sketch.)

The playwright, David Hirson, has some modestly interesting observations about the tension between art and popular entertainment and the need to strike a balance between them. But he slathers on so much extraneous nonsense (a maid who only speaks in one-syllable words rhyming in “Oooh” is the most inane) that the message is lost. Maybe he’s challenging us to see La Bete as the compromise between art and commerce; instead, it seems more like showcase for Campbell, ranting in the comic wilderness.

— A.W.J.

Theatre 3,
2800 Routh St. in the Quadrangle.
Through Jan 14.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.