A Noise Within opened a deliriously mad production of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid” that is at once completely free and rigorously precise. Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott takes on Moliere’s quintessential hypochondriac with all the sardonic outlandishness it deserves. The play mercilessly skewers the upper class obsessions with “cures” as well as the medical profession itself and the lengths to which we all go to find the fountain of youth.
We find Argan, a wealthy hypochondriac, on his “throne” spending his day grumbling and groaning, bellowing to his loved ones and his put-upon maidservant, stomping his feet like a toddler, self-diagnosing a dire illness. Meanwhile, he is being bamboozled by the caresses and sweet talk of his second wife, gold-digger Béline and her lover/notary Mr. de Bonnefoi. Argan has come up with a plan to marry his daughter off to his doctor’s nephew, Claude, who is also a doctor, thereby insuring himself free medical care for life. Of course, this being Moliere, his daughter, Angélique , is desperately in love with someone else. Through a series of uproarious schemes and disguises, his clever maidservant, Toinette, works furiously to cure Argan of his real “disease”, that of allowing his imagined illnesses to rob him of his joie de vivre and the people who truly care about him.
The whole endeavor is as frothy as Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes; frilly meringues with bows and lace and topped off with the impossible curls of Danielle Griffith’s wigs. Apollo Dukakis is deliciously capricious and despotic as Argan, yet he manages to evoke sympathy. Deborah Strang is an impertinent Toinette, playing her with a perfect combination of cunning and warmth. Daughter Angélique and her suitor Cléante are played earnestly by a sparkling Kelsey Carthew and a desperately forlorn Josh Odsess-Rubin in a charming turn. The always fantastic Freddy Douglas cuts an electrifying figure as both Bonnefoi and Mr. Fleurant and Jeremy Rabb gives a hilarious performance as Dr. Purgeon. The beautiful Carolyn Ratteray has fantastic physical comedy chops and makes the absolute most of the duplicitous Béline. And finally, the impossibly preposterous and side-splitting corporeal portrayal of Claude De Aria by Rafael Goldstein is in a word, priceless.
“The Imaginary Invalid” runs in repertory with” The Maids” and “Arcadia” at A Noise Within through November 20. 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena. www.anoisewithin.org. (626) 356-3100