The Imaginary Invalid
Reviewed by Vanessa Cate
A Noise Within
Through November 19
Moliere’s classic farce The Imaginary Invalid has been produced so many times since its inception in 1673 that it’s high time it received a strong revamp. Constance Congdon’s adaptation of Dan Smith’s new translation thankfully gives us a delightfully updated play that isn’t as stiff and dated as Moliere usually comes off.
Argan (Apollo Dukakis) is a hypochondriac of no small conviction. His every breath is devoted to his obsession with his own mortality, his living space a sort of trophy room, displaying urine samples and remedies, where he himself sits on a sort of throne for the sickly.
How could such a man be loved? Argan’s much younger wife Beline (Carolyn Ratteray) finds a way, though her motives are quite transparent as she devises, with her notary “friend” Mr. Fleurant (Freddy Douglas), a way to ensure a massive inheritance.
Yet the genuine love Argan receives he largely overlooks. His daughter Angelique (Kelsey Carthew) may be preoccupied with her feelings for the young Cleante (Josh Odsess-Rubin), but she remains loving and devoted. And his servant Toinette (Deborah Strang), though outspoken, always keeps the well-being of the family in mind, and proves to be his greatest friend.
The first act of this comedy is a touch slow, and things don’t ramp up until after intermission with the entrance of the absurd Doctor Purgeon (Jeremy Rabb) and his son Claude De Aria (Rafael Goldstein). Argan would have his daughter marry this eccentric simpleton: What better way to keep a doctor close than to invite one into the family?
The ensemble does a fine job. Douglas has found a part (actually two, if you count his brief cameo as the horrifying Mr. de Bonnefoi) that really allows him to shine. Goldstein, of course, is a master, whose work is always impressive. And if you’re a fan, or if you just happen to catch him in Arcadia which is running concurrently at A Noise Within, you’ll be delightfully blindsided by the utterly unrecognizable (and truly side-splitting) performance he delivers here.
The stand-out achievement here is the production’s exquisite costuming by Angela Balogh Calin (who also designed the set), and the accompanying wigs by Danielle Griffith.
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has several moments of directorial brilliance, which fall so far outside of Moliere’s stuffy box that it transforms the play into something new and fresh. A dastardly enema, a rite — in the form of a Turkish dance — initiating the “invalid” into the medical profession, and the absurd circus of doctor and son are fine directorial moments that delight, and make this pill wholly worth swallowing.
A Noise Within, 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Through November 19; For performance schedule visit www.anoisewithin.org; 626-356-3100 ext. 1; Running time: approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.