THEATER REVIEW: Ghent’s ‘Imaginary Invalid’ is a farce majuere

“The Imaginary Invalid” / Ghent Playhouse

IN MOLIÈRE’S “THE IMAGINARY INVALID“ the playwright’s loving contempt for feckless, ignorant, fraudulent and absurd humans is here in abundance. Fortunately it is also funny. We get to recognize parts of ourselves and then go rolling home with our own absurdities.

I can’t attest to the validity of Barbara Leavell Smith’s translation/adaptation, but her version demonstrates a sure hand for theatricality. It works. She also directed.

If the word “farce” originally had to do with cooking and meant “to improve as if by stuffing,” this play is farce: definitely stuffed; and I suspect that the medical profession–and “expertise” in general–have never quite recovered from Molière’s cuisine.

21 16ent Imaginary Invalid review

Cast members of “The Imaginary Invalid” (l-r): George Filieau, Bridget Bulson, Sally Dodge and Kevin Kilb perform the classic comedy at the Ghent Playhouse. Photo by Daniel Region

In the leading role of Argan, George Filieau finds exactly the right spot between absurd and real. One forgets he is acting.

Bridget Bulson as the volatile, sassy maid has a wonderful soubrette look for the role of Toinette: round face, porcelain skin, large, wide-set eyes, and boundless energy. She also has talent. But director, director! Where, where were you to remind her that every single line need not catapult into the world like a deranged cannonball?

Mark Wilson in a cameo role is delightful. Eleven-year-old Imogen Drake is utterly believable in creating her character’s charming dishonesty. (She is one of two young actors slated for the role of Louison.)

Joanne Maurer’s wigs and costumes are wonderful. All are character-driven with texture and color and sly details such as turquoise bows on the shoulders of the handsome juvenile (Lapo-McDermott), a false-innocent bow-row on the bodice of wicked stepmother Beline (played by Lael Locke), and extravagant, narcissistic feathers on the hat of Madame Diafoirus (played by Sally Dodge). The costumes make one admire the silk, lace, and velvet–and stifle a giggle.

The set by Sam Reilly has a spacious feel with tall, once-elegant-now-dreary walls, velvet drapes, and golden sconces.

Mark ”Monk” Schane-Lydon as Argan’s smarter brother has a good grasp on the style, and he looks terrific in his extravagantly curly white wig, as if his brains happily exploded. His curls are tied modestly in a small red bow. (It’s bow-time!)

In fact, the Schane-Lydon family has contributed much to this production.

The music compositions, motifs for each character and performance of Catherine Schane-Lydon at the synth-harpsichord are perfect. She provides lots of 17th- century-style tunes and a keen ear for what is happening on stage. Often her underscoring of dialogue comes to a satisfying cadence exactly as the speech ends. The music changes in tempo and/or mode to underline the action. She also knows when and where to shut up.

Her curly-wigged spouse (“Monk”) has provided an effective, visual detail: a faux harpsichord lid whose interior is covered with a beautiful period painting.

Kelly Mackerer produced in both the narrow, theatrical sense of that word and its broader meaning.

Reservations are available by phone at 800 838-3006.

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