A play rarely manages to be both a fast-paced, intelligent comedy with rapid-fire dialogue, and a slightly bawdy, slap-stick farce filled with potty humor and sight gags. Yet, somehow, Idaho Shakespeare Festival's latest production, The Imaginary Invalid, achieves that rare, magical combination. And what that means for audiences is a whole lot of laughter.
Playwrights Oded Gross and Tracy Young adapted the classic French comedy by Moliere, transforming it into a modern romp that blends witty dialogue with a little song and dance and a big-old wink to pop culture. First staged at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, director Young--who directed last season's Taming of the Shrew--brought it to Boise and Idaho audiences should make a point of catching it while they can.
Set in 1960s France, the production is a Technicolor dance with the distinct feel of a classed-up episode of Laugh-In. The cast seems to have as much fun with the high-energy piece as the audience does, clad in everything from bell bottoms and go-go boots to leisure suits, Afros and a certain sequined mini-dress that leaves a lasting impression.
The story is relatively simple: A wealthy French hypochondriac (Tom Ford) is dealing with the bizarre treatments concocted by quack doctors and contending with a gold-digging second wife (Lise Bruneau) who is happily awaiting his death. Not to mention, his eldest daughter happens to be a hunchback (Jodi Dominick) and his younger daughter (Kimbre Lancaster) has no shortage of suitors.
The cast works beautifully as an ensemble, and even the smallest part is a juicy one--a point proven the moment Lynn Robert Berg steps onto the stage as Doctor Purgon in his white platform go-go boots.
Ford, Sara M. Bruner as Toinette--the maid who is the only one who sees what's going on--M.A. Taylor as Guy, Toinette's would-be musician brother, along with newcomers Lancaster and Juan Rivera Lebron, who plays a suitor, all turn in strong performances. Dominick and Ian Gould, who plays another would-be suitor, have the enviable roles of clowns within a room of clowns, each playing their physical props to the fullest.
It's clear that scenic and costume designer Christopher Acebo had fun. From the pop art mixed with classic French paintings to the primary-colored wardrobe, the set visually matches the slightly frantic, over-the-top feel of the play.
While it's not a traditional musical, the original songs that punctuate the show are standout moments, as are the times when the cast breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience into its world. The lovely asides make the audience feel as if they're in on some sort of inside joke.
It's hard not to get caught up in fun of The Imaginary Invalid. It's a joyful romp that will leave a smile on your face.