Sunday, January 18, 2009

Aisle Say - Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid

Squeamish on the subject of enemas? Dismissive of the neuroses of hypochondriacs? Slave to the Mt. Olympian dictates of the medical profession? Then I don't prescribe “The Imaginary Invalid” for you. However, if none of this is of consequence and you wish to be enthralled by the most dazzling of sets, gorgeous costumes, impeccable timing, outrageously hysterical dialog and the greatest troupe of actors in Delaware, then behold this masterpiece.
Moliere, one of the greatest writers of comedy in all literature, built the 1672 play on archetypal characters and situations of the commedia dell'arte – Italian street theater. It is fascinating to witness how well the subject matter retains traction today. Physicians are considered ...”hypocrites whose specious babbling offer promises rather than cures.”
Argan (Stephen Pelinski), a chronic hypochondriac, plans to marry off his daughter Angelique (Erin Partin)to a doctor in order to secure permanent medical care for his ever-increasing list of imagined ills. Angelique and Toinette (Carine Montbertrand), the quick witted maid have other ideas.
Argan has chosen the exceedingly dim-witted Thomas Diaforea (Mic Materrese), son of Dr. Diaforea. Materrese generates much laughter with his awkward antics. The actor re-appears in the second act as the hypocritical Dr. Purgatiffe, spouting titanic mock offense that Argan will not agree to the daily doses of enema he prescribes, thereby lining his pockets with gold.
The acting is collectively magnificent. Montbertrand follows her tour de force performance in The Rep's opening production, “The Hostage” with a second stellar and outlandish characterization, reminiscent of Imogene Coca in her zany skits with Sid Caesar. She dazzles the audience in both her accents and her laser quick costume changes.
Michael Gotch is double cast as lawyer Monsieur Shystaire (Say that slowly. The play is ripe with double entendres) and Monsieur Placebeaux, a 17th century EMT. The prop and costume pieces employed by Placebeaux created the same stunning audience sensation as did the song “Springtime For Hitler” in the movie “The Producers” - 300 sets of jaws in the Roselle Center for the Arts thudding to the carpet. Gotch played the part like a man who really gets into his work.
Sara Valentine (Louison), Argan's second daughter, channeled legendary comedienne Fanny Brice portraying her signature character Baby Snooks. Argan accuses Louison of lying and says he must punish her by spanking her with his cane. As she bends down he thinks better of it and ever so delicately taps her. She responds as if she were struck by lightning, screaming bloody murder, just one of the many slapstick gags of this production that continually surprises. z
As Robbins states in the play's program, ...”A play can persuade us, even when everything we face each day seems bleak, that life is actually theatre of the absurd and not tragedy.” In other words, if high health care costs stress you out, treat yourself to this very therapeutic laugh riot. Your heart muscle will benefit.
If I were the artistic director at Cab Calloway, I would be on the phone with The REP's Artistic Director Sandy Robbins pleading for a discount for my kids. Students of theater, lovers of theater of all ages should see this.
Aisle Say abhors “trite”, but is motivated to be so this solitary time: The Rep at the U of D is the state of the “art” in the First State. Til February 4. Call 831.2204 for tix.

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