'The Imaginary Invalid' is wonderful

It's almost become an OSF tradition. At least one play per season has to totally break the mold, swing for the bleachers, try for that home run. This year, it's a production of Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid." But, mon Dieu, what Moliere!

First of all, any relation to Moliere as presented by the Comedie Francaise is merely tangential. With more than a nod to the street-theater tradition of the commedia dell'arte and more than a wink to the irreverent television tradition of the 1960s, adaptors Oded Gross and Tracy Young came up with an outrageous mélange of "Laugh-In," "Hair," French "New Wave" film and every piece of vinyl they could get their hands on.

Our play opens in an expansive Paris apartment — we know it's Paris, there's the Eiffel Tower out the window — and a cramped figure in a wheelchair downstage by the audience. Then — blam! Lights, music, action! The entire cast bursts through the doors of the set, dressed in every '60s horror you ever threw out of your closet and every hairdo you've cringed to see in old photos, frugging, twisting, shimmying, watusi-ing and what have you, wishing our poor hero their get-well wishes.

Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be that kind of night. And director Tracy Young would have it no other way.

As I said, the plot is sort of Moliere. The wealthy, caustic Argan (David Kelly) is convinced he is chronically and deathly ill. His doctors concur, of course. They prescribe all sorts of cures: leeches, tonics, poultices and enemas. (Some plays have recurring fart jokes. This play has enema jokes.)

In classic Moliere fashion, there is the sassy but loyal maid, Toinette (K.T. Vogt), an obedient but lovesick daughter, Angelique (Kimbre Lancaster), who is in love with a florist (Christopher Livingston), a scheming wife, Beline (Terri McMahon) and a supporting cast of doctors, apothecaries, lawyers, suitors and other comedic foils, all chewing the scenery, smirking and breaking into song with no provocation at all. All of this is set to every '60s musical genre you can think of, courtesy of composer Paul James Prendergast with lyrics by Gross, Prendergast and Young.

Gross and Young have twisted the original plot to suit their needs. They've given Argan an older daughter, Louison (played by an unrecognizable Nell Geisslinger), convinced that she is as beautiful as Angelique despite a deforming hump. They've given Toinette a sceptical but sincere musician brother, Guy (Rodney Gardiner) and some recurring shtick of faulty sign language. Beline's lawyer, Monsieur de Bonnefoi (U. Jonathan Toppo) has the unfortunate problem of fainting when he tells a lie, not a convenient flaw for an attorney. Argan's brother, Beralde (Jeffrey King) now has a yen for Toinette. And Thomas (Daisuke Tsuji), the unsuccessful suitor for Angelique, winds up with Louison with the blessings of his almost-doctor ("I was color blind, you see") father (Robert Vincent Frank).

And I won't even go into the scene of the apothecary with the giant syringe (Chris Carwithen) or entrance of the eminent Dr. Purgon (Daniel T. Parker) with his four nurses (think Ronettes wearing the Swiss flag), except that somehow scenic and costume designer Christopher Acebo found platform go-go boots, a white vinyl doctor's coat and bright red sequined boxer shorts.

Young, who directed (and adapted with Gross) "The Servant of Two Masters" a couple of seasons back, makes this production into the same kind of nonstop action-farce. The script is hip, topical, irreverent and unabashedly vulgar and crass. It's absolutely wonderful.

"The Imaginary Invalid" runs through the end of the season — to packed houses, no doubt.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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