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Molière Meets Laugh-In

Monday 21 February 2011

The Imaginary Invalid

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 20 February – 6 November, 2011

If you remember Laugh-In, the 60s television comedy variety/skit show, sort of an early Saturday Night Live, you will feel right at home at this production of The Imaginary Invalid. Set it Paris of the late 1960s, it’s farce done broader than broad, no cow too sacred to be slaughtered, with a bright red clown’s handkerchief providing the blood, of course!

I am not an expert, or even moderately schooled in the technical details of the structure of Molière’s works. However, I suspect that the basic elements are there: I see physical humor, puns, gags, lots of comedic music, interludes for interaction with the audience, and a big closing number with redemption and a call to the audience’s hearts.

Cast highlights:

* David Kelly as Argan, the hypochondriacal lead. Sometimes comedic leads are straight-men, allowing others to hit the punch lines. In this case, Mr. Kelly is the punchline, and gets so into the role that I thought he was going to lose it along with the audience. I’m really looking forward to him as the Major-General in The Pirates of Penzance later in the season.

* K.T. Vogt as Toinette, the disobedient servant to Argan. Ms. Vogt has had a number of supporting roles at OSF, and has now emerged as a strong comedic actress. Her foil as rational and sane to Argan’s Lear-like blindness to what’s going on around him provides the main dramatic tension in the production, and her own sub-lot keeps her character human instead of only farcical.

* Rodney Gardiner as Guy, Toinette’s brother. Guy is the minstrel of the show, playing the guitar after intermission and playing the Laurel to Ms. Vogt’s Hardy. His part is as the soul of the troupe, and interacting with the audience most directly. Watch for his unusual pre-show role.

* Sign language. OSF has been experimenting  with sign language for a couple of years, starting with The Music Man in 2009. I won’t pretend that I’ve been a fan–it worked okay in The Music Man, but got in the way in Hamlet. Here it finally connects with the audience as part of the farce, and becomes more approachable to non-signers. Give us a few years and we’ll all be reading it, from the actors on stage.

This show is all-out comedy, with just a slight pull at heartstrings to remind us of what’s important. It’s not primarily a musical–the plot is developed outside of the musical numbers. But it is music-rich, and there are plenty of opportunities to groove to the tunes.

2h40m with one intermission about an hour into the performance, probably longer from the applause that will undoubtedly occur. Highly recommended.


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