The Imaginary Invalid
Seattle Repertory Theatre
February 21 – March 22, 2008
If it’s pure classical theater you’re looking for, then you’d better sniff somewhere else. The Seattle Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid, cleverly adapted for today’s modern audience by Constance Congdon, is anything but out-dated.
The original play is an absolute mainstay in the canon of French drama. Moliere, a top performer and playwright from the 1600s, concluded his personal canon with The Imaginary Invalid. Being a performer and writer, he wrote the lead character, Argan, for himself to play. At the time, he was very ill with Tuberculosis and so playing an ill man onstage who never leaves his chair was relatively easy. However, on February 17, 1673, Moliere suffered a massive hemorrhage and
died. Never one to go out without a bang, however, he pushed through the final moments of that evening’s performance and when the curtain dropped, so did he.
In a new adaptation of this classic play (orginally comissioned by and performed at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco), the Seattle Rep brings to life one of the liveliest and most entertaining shows in Seattle. Perfectly combining all design elements along with a fantastically solid cast, The Imaginary Invalid is quite alive and well.
Riccardo Hernandez’s set design evokes a certain 1970’s—perhaps even a Goodfellas—house feeling with pinched in leather walls and floor and round open rooms, which spin on turntables to bring characters on or off, or to reveal new rooms. The practicality of the set is brilliant and seems incredibly entertaining for the actors as well as the audience. Coloring in the white leather is Alexander V. Nichols’ lighting, accenting the world wonderfully. Eyvind Kang’s composition and Wade Madsen’s choreography add a new layer to the performance. The addition of song and dance add a decidedly farcical element perfect for poking fun at the medical field, and the opening song (with the chorus, “if it ducks, then it's a quack!”) immediately introduces the audience to the bizarre and irresistible world of the play, as well as the plot. And who could forget the outlandish and beautiful costumes by David Woolard. Each costume evokes a fantastic image and never leaves the audience in any question as to who is who in the world of Invalid.
Congdon’s adaptation for the modern audience is a brilliant depiction of how a classical text can be made universal when just the jokes and references are adjusted to the modern world. Of course, David Schwiezer’s direction plays a huge role in this as well. Schwiezer’s direction combines precise choreography with magnificently eccentric movement and delivery.
It is difficult, in such a tight ensemble show, to point to any particular performers as better than others; but one cannot deny the amazing work by Rocco Sisto as Argan. On stage for almost the entire show and constantly either terribly ill or running around in panic, his levels and his composure never cracked and read perfectly as an imaginary invalid. Also, Zoë Winters as Angélique blasts forth an explosive performance in song, dance and speech, while Alice Playten, as the classic know-it-all maid Toinette, is hilariously composed, ultimately orchestrating the household and everyone's lives within it.
This is really one a top-notch show and each and every one of you should do whatever you can to make sure to see it.
Review by Nigel Andrews and Lia Morgan