Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Imaginary Invalid

Warning: Attending a production at the Woodland Opera House any time between now and February 10 could be hazardous to your health. I’m serious. I will not be responsible for anybody who suffers convulsions of laughter, splitting of sides, or inability to breathe because of laughing.

The Opera House is presenting a madcap production of Moliere’s classic “The Imaginary Invalid,” translated and adapted by James Magruder and directed by Rodger McDonald, who also plays the title role.

The fun starts as the audience enters the opera house, along with costumed actors, who take their places in the box seats, and along side members of the audience and interact with each other and audience members.

A Nurse Maid, Jenn Smuda-Cotter begins the production with a speech comparing “classic” playwrights Wm. Shakespeare and Moliere and then all hell breaks loose with perhaps the most energetic opening you are likely to see on stage.

The members of the cast are anticipating the arrival of Argan, “the imaginary invalid” and the nonsense begins.

There are not enough superlatives to describe the Rodger McDonald’s Argan, the hypochondriac to end all hypochondriac who revels in reciting the ailments of and treatment of his bowels. Moliere takes lowbrow humor and raises it to new heights, and this translation uses just about every euphemism for the act of emptying one’s bowels as one can find. McDonald handles the slapstick humor beautifully and has a catalog of facial expressions that seems endless.

Amy Vyvlecka is Toinette, Argan’s servant, whose caustic relationship with her master is dependent on the chemistry between the two actors, and it’s a chemistry which works well in this instance. Toinette is the person in the house who really runs things, who knows everybody’s secrets, how to keep them and how and when to reveal them. Vyvlecka is delightful to watch, a real pro at work. She is the character that everyone seems to trust, thus she is enlisted to help Angelique (Marissa Gamble), Argan’s eldest daughter in winning Argan’s permission to marry the love of her life, Cleante (Ben Moroski).

Argan has betrothed his daughter to the son of his doctor, Dr. Diafoirus (Phillip Pitman), Thomas Diafoirus (Mark Garbe), a man repulsive to Angelique, but chosen by her father because, as he freely admits, he wants to be sure to always have a doctor in the house. Garbe beautifully handles the role of the bumbling simpleton trying to remember the flowery speeches his father has written for him, but failing miserably, while his personal mannerisms are grossly distasteful to just about everyone.

Gamble is adorable and spends most of the show lip-locked with Moroski. The two perform an impromptu “opera,” when Cleante poses as a music teacher in order to spend time with his love. In the “opera,” they are able to speak their love to each other, hoping Argan will not be aware of what is transpiring. Moroski is also very funny, with the woebegone look of a lovelorn loon, as he sighs for the love of his lady.

Argan’s second wife, Beline, is played by Anne-Marie Trout. The gold-digging Beline has married the miserly Argan to get his money after his death, but flutters about him like a dutiful wife. He calls her “Mommy” and she speaks baby talk to him until her duplicity is revealed. Trout is very funny and plays the exaggerated Beline to perfection.

Franchesca Jimenez as Louise, Argan’s youngest daughter, is cute as a button and has little to do in Act 1, but gets her chance to shine in Act 2, and shine she does as she feigns terror at her father’s anger.

The hilarity and nonsense of Act 1 is dulled a bit in Act 2, where Moliere takes the chance to present his views of the medical profession of the day (perhaps with good reason, since the playwright died shortly after “Imaginary Invalid” opened!). Jeff Nauer gives a solid performance as Argan’s brother, Beralde, but gets the unhappy task of delivering much the “serious” material and doesn’t get a lot of laughs, because there are none to be had.

However the show ends with a zany ceremony, arranged by Beralde and headed by Smuda-Cotter, and all ends happily.

The feel of this production is greatly enhanced by the fabulous costumes of Laurie Everly-Klassen and wigs of Klassen, Chris Medina, Rachel Klassen.

This a sparkling gem, from first to last. As the Nurse Maid states at the outset, Moliere doesn’t get as much attention as Shakespeare. Based on this Woodland Opera House production, it’s hard to understand why.

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