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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Imaginary Invalid
at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Also see David's interview with Alice Playten

Imaginary Invalid
Ian Bell, Rocco Sisto, ZoŽ Winters and Julie Briskman
Despite a crass and obvious adaptation of the original Moliťre farce by playwright Constance Congdon, there is much to recommend the Seattle Repertory Theatre's exuberantly performed and handsomely decked out production of The Imaginary Invalid. Director David Schweitzer sets a bubbly, bawdy tone and style not unlike that found in many of today's popular film comedies (Superbad and Knocked Up come to mind) and enlists an able cast of farceurs who embrace the ribald antics and elevate them beyond mere bathroom humor.

Rocco Sisto, as the hypochondriac Argan who is always ready for the next tapping on his door to be the specter of death, manages to keep what might be a most unappealing central character rather likable as he convenes over his pity party. Julie Briskman (last seen clawing her way through some of the cattiest lines in ACT's The Women) scores another home-run as Beline, Argan's scheming wife and truly wicked stepmother to his daughter. Briskman is a delightful amalgam of every Disney stepmother and villainess as she vacillates between faux charm and unscrupulous scheming. Counterpoint to Briskman is the sublime Broadway vet Alice Playten as the fairy godmotherly house servant who surreptitiously arranges that all will end well for her master and his daughter. Playten earns some of the play's heartiest laughs, all the while underplaying the broader approach taken by the rest of the cast. She even makes the most of an ill-staged half man/half woman bit where she is posing as a doctor as well as the servant. A star comedienne in the making is ZoŽ Winters as Argan's bizarre daughter Angelique. Winters' physical comedy and facial tics are quite impressively amusing, though she is allowed an overreliance on referencing classic comedic actresses' bits (a "Lucy Ricardo" crying jag, for example). Andrew William Smith has the looks and comic swagger appropriate for her lover Cleante.

Ian Bell is the oddest and often funniest figure onstage as Angelique's ill-suited and ultimately scorned suitor Claude De Aria, who tends to squawk and strut like a chicken and refer to himself in the first person. David Pichette displays his customary comic ease as Claude's uncle and Argan's physician Dr. Purgeon. Brandon Whitehead earns a hearty share of chuckles as the rejected apothecary Monsieur Fleurant, and Bradford Farwell is fine as the notary Monsieur de Bonnefoi.

Scenic designer Ricardo Hernandez warrants special kudos for his set, awhirl with velvet turntables and set aglow by the deft lighting design of Andrew V. Nichols. And heightening the humor all around are the costume designs by David Woolard, particularly with his Baby Huey gone pantalooned look for Bell's whacked-out Claude and the over-the-top "let them eat cake" fashions for Briskin's Beline.

The Imaginary Invalid runs through March 22, 2008 on the Bagley Wright main-stage, 155 Mercer Street in Seattle Center. For more information, visit http://www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: © Chris Bennion, 2008



- David Edward Hughes



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