Whether you’re a Mel Brooks/Monty Python fan who would never even consider setting foot in “California’s Home For The Classics” or a diehard Molière aficionado who can’t possibly imagine passing up a fresh new adaptation of the 343-year-old Le Malade Imaginaire, Constance Congdon’s 21st-century take on The Imaginary Invalid treats A Noise Within audiences to a laughfest so delectably funny (and playfully raunchy), it would do Mel or Monty proud.
As in the original French, Congdon’s adaptation has hypocondriaque extraordinaire Argan (Apollo Dukakis) plotting to marry off daughter Angélique (Kelsey Carthew) to his personal physician’s medical student son, the better to have an MD always by his side.
Angélique herself is more than willing to wed, but only if her future husband is to be Cléante (Josh Odsess-Rubin), the handsome, bespectacled gent with whom she has recently fallen head-over-heels.
Fortunately for the lovestruck couple, Argan’s faithful servant Toinette (Deborah Strang) has come up with a plan that will allow Angélique and Cléante to meet in private by introducing the latter as her master’s daughter’s music teacher.
Meanwhile, Argan’s much much much much younger trophy wife Béline (Carolyn Ratteray) schemes with her notary public lover Bonnefoi (Freddie Douglas) to keep her decrepit husband’s fortune in her own greedy gloved hands.
The arrival of family quack Doctor Purgeon (Jeremy Rabb) and his bizarred bird of a nephew Claude (Rafael Goldstein) completes the cast of characters, or would if Douglas did not return as the equally inept apothecary Fleurant and Toinette did not impersonate yet another doctor as part of her ingenious plan to guarantee Angélique’s marriage to the man of her dreams.
Working from Dan Smith’s new translation, adapter Congdon modernizes Molière to abundant audience amusement. (My guess is that among Argan’s 1670s hypochondriacal fears, ebola and fibromyalgia did not figure, nor did Molière ever dream that by turning Dr. Purgeon’s nephew’s family name from Diafoirus to de Aria, it could be rhymed with diarrhea more times than I could possibly count.)
The laughs fly fast and furious under Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s effervescent direction, her cast of A Noise Within resident artists (and a few lucky guest stars) freed from the shackles of archaic language and allowed to let loose their inner buffoon.
A comedically brilliant Dukakis wows the crowd in a role he was born to play opposite Strang’s wondrous wisecracker of a Toinette, Ratteray’s scrumptious schemer of a Béline, and Rabb’s towering tornado of a Doctor Purgeon.
Carthew and Odsess-Rubin are as young lover-licious as two young lovers can be, with Carthew scoring bonus points for the authentic agony she feels at the thought of her imaginary-illness-obsessed father’s imagined demise.
Douglas is a double dazzler, redefining flamboyant as a beribboned, befeathered Mr. de Bonnefoi, then returning in kooky spooky mode as enema-armed Mr. Fleurant. (If only ill-thought-out blocking had not blocked all but a few seconds’ glimpse of Fleurant to anyone in this reviewer’s sightline.)
As for Goldstein’s stuffed chicken of a Claude, words fail me to describe just how outrageously, scene-stealingly hilarious this birdman/manbird is.
In fact, all that’s missing at A Noise Within is Toinette’s rapid-fire role-switching from servant to “doctor” to servant to “doctor” again and again and again … a surefire Congdon guffaw-getter inexplicably left on the cutting room floor.
Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin outdoes herself once more with her fabulously fanciful take on 17th-century France, aided and abetted by Danielle Griffith’s over-the-top-tastic wigs and makeup. Prop master Dillon Nelson’s abundance of bodily fluid-filled jars shine multi-colorfully on Calin’s imaginative set thanks to lighting design whiz Ken Booth. Sound designer Robert Oriol provides farts aplenty, booms of thunder at Béline’s every entrance, and melodious tunes to Congdon’s clever lyrics.
Kristin Weber is stage manager. Emily Savage Hopfauf is assistant stage manager. Orlando de la Paz is scenic painter.
Like last year’s Figaro, The Imaginary Invalid breathes fresh new life into a centuries-old classic. I called that A Noise Within treat “the frothiest, funniest, most farcical romp I’ve yet seen at ANW.” Who knew laugh lighting could strike two years in a row!
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena. Through May 13. See website for detailed schedule. Reservations: 626 356-3100 ext. 1.
October 15, 2016
Photos: Craig Schwartz