The servant is always smarter than the master. That's why he's the servant. Like King Lear's Fool, he may be subordinate, but he also commands a wealth of information by which upper management lives and dies.
Remember that the next time your hand's caught in the garbage disposal. You'd better hope the plumber's not out of town.
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Molière's high farce The Bungler, newly translated by Richard Wilbur, understands as much. The current North Coast Repertory Theatre entry cleverly exploits the servant-master relationship's madcap side, and set designer Marty Burnett must have mind-melded with costumer Jeanne Reith to create this drop-dead feast of color composition. The San Diego debut features its share of technical coups, too. Watch the introduction of Anselme (David Gallagher) as a theater-organ rendition of “Abba Dabba Dabba” plays in the background. Gallagher couldn't be better amid Anselme's fribbles, and soundman Terry Glaser's choice of music ratchets up the hilarity about 421 degrees.
But in the end, we never really do get to join director Glaser's fray. This show's relentless high jinks define and color every single nook and cranny, from the aftermath of a simple nose-blow to the self-indulgent beating of one of the principals near the climax. There's almost no beginning or end here-just one big middle, virtually devoid of peaks and valleys to point the way through.
The fun (such as it is) starts when Sicilian gypsy Célie (Janel De Guzman) becomes the object of a romantic rivalry between Lélie (Jeremiah Lorenz) and Léandre (Tim Curns). The former enlists his manservant Mascarille (David Ari) to help him win Célie, but he unwittingly manages to scuttle Mascarille's tricks to unite the two. It all comes out in the wash-Lélie takes Célie by storm, and Léandre is reunited with former flame Hippolyte (Lisel Gorell-Getz), much to Anselme's delight.
The final twist, Mascarille observes, is like the ending of a comedy. In reality, the comedy was over a while ago, indiscernible inside the 8 billion sight gags and cookie-cutter vocals that pass for scenes.
The Old Globe Theatre staged Molière's Don Juan last spring, with a lot of the same effect I found in this show. Without a certain directorial restraint, Molière's already extreme stuff will get out of hand at the drop of a hat-such is the combative, rapid-fire intent behind his snappy dialogue and suggestions for movement. The Bungler may be a technically and chromatically splendid piece, but it's loath to catch its breath-thus, we have a problem catching ours.
This review is based on the matinée performance of April 23. The Bungler runs through May 15 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. 858-481-1055. $23-$27.
Alice in chains
Author Lewis Carroll knocked back a 'shroom or two in his day, like a lot of folks in 19th-century Britain. He insisted, though, that his classic Alice in Wonderland fantasy wasn't written while he was under the influence-he made it up spur-of-the-momently, he said, to entertain a bunch of neighbor kids.
That takes some of the fun out of an already labored Alice, currently at San Diego State University's Don Porter Theatre. Director Margaret Larlham's adaptation is a terrific idea for campus audiences and the escapism they may crave-but everybody's so busy executing that the required spontaneity doesn't quite come through. Nicole McCloud is effective as unassuming Alice, who falls through the White Rabbit's hole to her everlasting regret.
The program's Through the Looking Glass is quite a bit better-Carroll is more discerning in the introduction of his chess-game characters, and so is Larlham. Dan Morrison and Theresa Lenz are spot-on as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and Christy Castellanos makes a crotchety Humpty Dumpty.
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass run through May 1 at the Don Powell Theatre on the SDSU campus. 619-594-6884. $12-$15.
* CityBeat picks
CORRIDOS REMIX presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre at Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown, 619-544-1000, previews April 27 and 28, opens April 29, series of dramatic stories told in multicultural and multilingual song and dance. $26.50-$41.50.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM presented by Poor Players at the Hearth Theatre, 3 Civic Center Drive, San Marcos, 619- 255-1401, April 29, story of two couples, their romantic cross-purposes and an obstructionist king and queen. $12-$15.
A SKULL IN CONNEMARA at 6th@Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest, 619-688-9210, through May 4, story of Mick, his annual gravedigging task and the dysfunctional people around him and it. $15-$18.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS at Don Powell Theatre, 5500 Campanile Drive, SDSU, 619-594-6884, through May 1, hippified versions of the Lewis Carroll children's stories. $12-$15. See review on this page.
ANNIE presented by San Diego Junior Theatre at Casa del Prado, 1650 El Prado, Suite 208, Balboa Park, 619-239-8355, through May 8, story of Annie and her search for her real parents through Depression-era New York. $7-$12.
ANTIGONE at 6th@Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest, 619-688-9210, through May 8, story of the first true heroine and conscientious objector, the central figure in a conflict of familial values and state interests. $20-$23.
LATE-NIGHT CATECHISM at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, 858-481-1055, through May 10, a look at Catholicism through the eyes of Sister, who's giving away laminated Mass cards and will show you how St. Joseph can help you sell your house. $35.
* METAMORPHOSES at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange St., Coronado, 619-437-0600, through May 22, poolside retelling of ancient Greek and Roman myths. $22-$44.
NUNSENSE at Welk Resort Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, 760-749-3448, through June 5, musical spoof of life in a convent and the mysterious deaths of its nuns. $33-$55.
* PAGEANT at Cygnet Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., College Area, 619-337-1525, through May 22, musical beauty contest for drag queens, whose fates are determined by the audience. $26-$31.
PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM presented by the Julian Theatre Company and produced by Kinney Productions, Town Hall, 2129 Main St., Julian, 760-765-2119, through June 18, tale of Allan Felix, who daydreams of how to win the dating game, with advice from the spirit of Humphrey Bogart. $15-$20.
TEN LITTLE INDIANS at Coronado Playhouse, 1335 First St., Coronado, 619-435-4856, through May 8, story of Mr. Owen, who invites ten people-each with a secret-to Indian Island, where they're offed one by one. $10-$20.
THE BUNGLER at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, 858-481-1055, through May 15, commedia dell'arte piece translated from a Moliere script, replete with flirtations and obstacles to true love. $23-$27. See review on this page.
* THE WAVERLY GALLERY presented by New Village Arts Theatre, Jazzercise studio space, 2460 Impala Drive, Carlsbad, 760-433-3245, through April 30, story of an art dealer forced to surrender her gallery amid advancing age. $12-$18.
* VINCENT IN BRIXTON at Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, 619-23-GLOBE, through May 8, story of Vincent van Gogh and the romance in his early life. $19-$55.
WOMAN ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD presented by Playhouse on Plaza, 500 East Plaza Blvd., National City, 619-339-1169, through May 7, story of a Filipina immigrant in New York who denies her heritage until a nanny from her hometown stirs up spirits from the past. $12-$17.
READERS THEATRE at the Scripps Ranch Theatre, Alliant International University campus, 10455 Pomerado Road, Scripps Ranch, 858-578-7728. The play, Talley's Folly, depicts a pivotal evening between Ozark daughter Sally Talley and her rich Jewish suitor. $5 donation requested.
SAN DIEGO THEATRESPORTS at The FunHouse, 6822 El Cajon Blvd., College Area, 619-465-SHOW, improvisation games, scenes and songs through audience suggestions. USS Improvise: The Musical, a send-up of the original Star Trek TV series, plays April 15 through April 30. $10-$15.
THE MALE INTELLECT: AN OXYMORON? at the Theatre in Old Town, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town, 619-688-2494, pinpoints and celebrates the differences between the sexes. $25-$40; call about discounts.
TRIPLE ESPRESSO at the Horton Grand Theater, 444 Fourth Ave., Downtown, 619-234-9583, escapades of three wannabe nightclub stars who resurrect the act they got fired for staging 25 years ago. $33.50-$36.50.
ACT 2: HOMICIDE at Shirley's Kitchen, 7868 El Cajon Blvd., La Mesa, 619-561-8673, a psychic solves a befuddling murder with your help. $16-$32.
CHALK IT UP TO MURDER presented by HIT Productions, Fireside Steakhouse, 439 W. Washington Blvd., Escondido, 619-561-8673, featuring a cavalcade of new clues for a terrible crime. $16-$29.50.
KILLER REUNION at the Mystery Café Dinner Theater, Imperial House Restaurant, 505 Kalmia St., Bankers Hill, 619-544-1600. A murder takes place at a high-school reunion, and it's up to the former classmates (that's you) to help solve the mystery. $48.50-$52.50.
IT'S MY PARTY (And I'll Die If I Want To) at Shirley's Kitchen, 7868 El Cajon Blvd., La Mesa, 619-561-8673, the story of Ted's surprise birthday party - only the surprise isn't just for him. $16-$32.
JOEY & MARIA'S COMEDY at the Culy Theatre, 344 Seventh Ave., Downtown, 619-338-0526, the fortunes and foibles at the heart of an Italian wedding. Call for prices.
MURDER ON THE TRAIL at Shirley's Kitchen, 7868 El Cajon Blvd., La Mesa, 619-561-8673, Texas ranger Granite Hardpiece solves a homicide with your help. $16-$32.
RAISIN' THE RENT presented by Ira Aldridge Repertory Players at Caesar Café, 801 C St., Downtown, 619-283-4574, through May 22, story about a down-and-out nightclub owner and the gospel, jazz and blues that saves the day. $25 without dinner, $40 with.
SOPRANO'S LAST SUPPER at the Culy Theatre, 344 Seventh Ave., Downtown, 619-338-0526, features the Baritone family in a send-up of the HBO series The Sopranos. Call for prices.