“The Imaginary Invalid,” an adaptation of Molière’s 1673 comedy directed by Assistant Professor of Theater Abigail Killeen, opens with a concentrated shot of style. While the hypochondriac title character, played by Evan Horwitz ’15, sleeps in a wheelchair, the colorful world of this adaptation—assistant directed by Anna Morton ’15—swings to life around him as a chorus in mod outfits coos and prances around a jewel-tone set.

The protagonist, Argan, wakes up and lectures the audience on his long list of maladies. He trades barbed comments with his servant, Toinette (Marcella Jimenez ’16). For the few scenes it takes to establish their relationship, the Austin Powers look and rapid-fire wordplay don’t make sense together. 

Then character after outlandish character arrives, a confused love story gets rolling and it’s clear that Killeen is going to throw a kitchen sink of commedia dell’arte shenanigans into the mix—with as much retro flair and comic libido as the International Man of Mystery himself could muster.

The show’s sheer over-the-top-ness is the work of an infectiously committed ensemble of screwball characters. David Reichert ’18 steals the show as Argan’s deadpan and (badly cross-dressed) daughter, Louison—that is, until Quincy Koster ’15 snatches it away in a fit of melodrama as his prurient, scheming wife. Trevor Murray ’16 absolutely runs away with it in the second act in a trio of bumbling roles as Argan’s doctor, pharmacist and in-law to be. He flounces around stage and bellows his pompous lines with a comic abandon that brings the house down.

Despite the carnival atmosphere, the plot moves forward much of the time through private conversations and strategy sessions that revolve around Argan and Toinette. Horwitz and Jimenez have so many jokes to run through, and so many knowing physical responses to make, that there were a few hitches in pacing in last night’s performance. But as the plot thickened, both fell into a back-and-forth rhythm that ended up being the most compelling part of the show.

With a script chockablock with puns and a stage often full of actors, each new gag tended to arrive just as the last wave of laughter was breaking. Osa Omoregie ’18, playing Cleante, received a welcome break from his usual onlooking at the edge of the stage to sing a bizarre and bluesy duet with Amanda Perkins ’18, who played his lover and Argan’s younger daughter, Angelique. 

There was no shortage of slapstick, either. The best part of sophomore Isaac Merson’s performance as the duplicitous lawyer Monsieur de Bonnefoi was his dazed look as he fainted every time he lied, due to a rare condition.
For all its gaiety, there is a serious undercurrent to the show that brings an emotional side to its otherwise silly depiction of human mortality. The actors pivot away from boisterous joking and manage to turn the tide of the audience’s feelings without sappiness. In a cloying touch, though, the chorus returns twice to hammer home the moral point by swirling around stage chanting life-affirming slogans.

In many ways, “The Imaginary Invalid” has its cake and eats it too. It’s intelligent, yet raucous. It cracks jokes about itself throughout, but still ends up authentically bittersweet. It’s not making any compromises, and it’s more fun for the variety.