Say what you will about French playwright Molière (born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622), but you can't dispute his sense of theatrical timing. During a 1673 performance of his final play, The Imaginary Invalid, Molière who was playing the role of the miserly hypochondriac, Argan suffered a hemorrhage in the final act, soldiered on gamely till the end and finally expired several hours later.
Impeccable timing also propels the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's latest foray into the author's farcical oeuvre, only this time around, the results are far more salutary. Three years ago, OSF staged Tartuffe, Molière's broadside against religious hypocrisy. In The Imaginary Invalid, the barbs are directed toward the medical profession and those who would take seriously the ministrations of its supercilious, Latin-quoting quacks.
The inimitable Philip Nolen plays Argan with his usual flair for physical comedy and cantankerous self-aggrandizement. Around him flows the usual assortment of commedia types: Kate Ingram as the duplicitous second wife, Beline; Jean Tafler as the sagacious serving girl, Toinette; Melissa Mason and Michael Gill as the put-upon young lovers, Angelique and Cleante; and Carl Wallnau, Dan Graul, Chris Lindsay and Timothy Williams as a gaggle of grotesque medicos.
Director Jim Helsinger keeps the action moving swiftly and makes up for the play's haphazard structure with expansive, stylistic brio. The Imaginary Invalid may not be the best of Molière's efforts it lacks a convincing cohesiveness but the company manages to supersede its lapses with sparkling inventiveness and split-second comic timing, moving adroitly from one joke or piece of inspired business to the next.
Special kudos to Lisa Zinni, OSF's new costume designer, for some truly creative habiliment, as well as to veteran scenic and lighting designers Bob Phillips and Eric T. Haugen for their usual fine work. The Imaginary Invalid again spotlights the festival's flair for high-class lowdown comedy. It's a soothing tonic for whatever ails you, with nary an unpleasant aftertaste as the medicine goes down.
The Imaginary Invalid
Through Feb. 5
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
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