Review: Laughter is Best Medicine at ACT's 'Invalid'
Finally, there is real hard and sincere laughter in the American Conservatory Theater! Who was it that said to always add on a laugh? Tragedies-of-old sent audiences home with some humor, to leave a sweet taste after a heavy evening. Thankfully (and not a moment too soon) ACT takes the advice and bookends its overly-heavy 40th season with a side-splitting world-premiere adaptation of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid.
Constance Congdon's new script, which drops characters and adds musicality to an already-goofy show, is peachy! Full and fuzzy and fun (yeah, alliteration rites itself in this case). I've always appreciated the skill of ACT's core actors and have grown accustom to their styles over this past season. But I enjoyed them most of all in Congdon's Invalid because, for the first time, they actually appeared to be enjoying themselves! No boxy staging, silver spoons or high chins; but truly having fun with the words and with each other!
Farting! What a breath of fresh air! The "ailing" Argan (John Apicella), in a floppy white night-gown, flanked by prescriptions, bottles and an abacus, farts and distresses over his heart that has stopped, again! He is a hypochondriac of the worst kind doused in self-agony and illogic.
He loves his daughter Angelique (the young and healthy Allison Jean White), who loves a dashing Cleante (lovable Jud Williford), who disguises himself as a music teacher. In a number of antics opposite his doting and quick-thinking servant, Toinette (the deft and favorite Nancy Dussault), Argan somehow dances through quacks, thieves and the "boo-hiss" lady of the evening, Beline (Rene Augesen), his scheming second wife with over-made-up cleavage.
Forget trying to follow Moliere's plotline. Really, forget about it. Just sit back and watch the mayhem unfold. You'll figure it out. Congdon spreads the laughter on thick with baking metaphors and dyspepsia word-play.
Each actor frolics in distinct voices and contorts through highly-animated movement. Williford's flourishing entrances and exits receive some of the best applause. Gregory Wallace as Claude de Aria (Angelique's rival suitor), waddles about in dime-shop glasses, brunette horns and possesses an annoying habit of speaking in third-person. He was raised in a barn, after all. Makes sense, right?
Erik Flatmo's tilted set reminds me of the interior of the Tower of Pisa. And was that chandelier leaning, or just a trick of the scenery? Boisterous dresses and lavish wigs fill-out Beaver Bauer's delightful costume design. And her manifestation of Monsieur Fleurant (Anthony Fusco), a frog-like apothecary, dripping in grime and toting a gigantic missile-like enema, is stomach-turning!
All ends with an amusing gay romp with a piece of "Besame Mucho" (and hints of Offenbach?) Definitely some song and dance we haven't seen in the yawning theatre for months. Keep the revelry coming! Spoonful after spoonful of the best medicine!
The Imaginary Invalid: by Moliere, adapted by Constance Congdon, directed by Ron Lagomarsino, at the American Conservatory Theatre through July 8, 2007. 2-hrs with one 15-min intermission. Tickets ($13.50-$81.50) are available at 415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org. ACT Ticket Services is located at 405 Geary Street at Mason in San Francisco.
Photos by Kevin Berne: (top) Allison Jean White, John Apicella and Jud Williford; (middle) Steven Anthony Jones, Nancy Dussault, John Apicella, Jud Williford and Gregory Wallace; (bottom) Rene Augesen, John Apicella and Anthony Fusco