The Relative You Don’t Want on Your Bad Side: ‘Cousin Bette’

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BY AMY LYONS

She’s a poor, pitiable scrap of a woman turned sinister, revenge-seeking spinster: the title character in Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Honore de Balzac’s “Cousin Bette” at the Deaf West Theatre is a conniving force to be reckoned with, a woman scorned whose score-evening plot is frighteningly limitless.

Rebecca Mozo and Nike Doukas in "COUSIN BETTE" in the world premiere adaptation of that novel by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Jeanie Hackett for THE ANTAEUS COMPANY. PHOTO CREDIT: Michele K. Short

The adaptation runs more than three hours, but time certainly doesn’t creep by during this tense redemption tale skillfully told by Antaeus Company. Bette serves as narrator and anti-hero, the poor relation in a well-to-do, 19th Century Parisian family. Played with wicked charm by Nike Doukas, (alternating with Alicia Wollerton), Bette presents herself as the woe-is-me family outcast at the top of the show, a penniless cousin upon whom the family loves to look down. Her lowly station gives her the deceptive sheen of harmlessness, thus various cousins, aunts and uncles consider her a trusted confidante, one who hears all the whispers of various family scandals simply because the whisperers assume she is powerless. Bette has pretty much committed to a lonely, threadbare life, when Wenceslas Steinbock (Henri Lubatti) enters the scene, igniting flames of passion in her chilly, lonesome soul. To garner his affections, Bette introduces the young artist to her prominent family so his art may be discovered and his heart may be hers. But the plan goes woefully awry when Steinbock doesn’t fall for Bette, but instead becomes smitten with her rich cousin’s spoiled daughter. The thwarted Bette decides it’s time to get even and sets out on a plot to destroy her entire family.

Director Jeanie Hackett is at her best here, guiding the title character through an intricate plot that is entirely delicious. We root for Bette one minute, feel repelled by the depths to which she’ll sink for the sake of vengeance the next. Unrequited love gets its full due for the bulk of the play, but Bette’s best laid plans send her careening toward her own comeuppance. Get ready for a gleefully destructive ride.

Through March 21 at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. Call (818) 506-5436.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.