Theatre: The Imaginary Invalid at Theatricum Botanicum

July 28, 2016 - Reviewed by Justin Biel

Constance Congdon’s uproarious adaptation of Moliere’s "The Imaginary Invalid" opened July 9 at Theatricum Botanicum. 

A classic comedic piece originally written for King Louis XIV of France, Congdon’s modern translation is executed with perfect comedic timing, energy and just the right dose of disorder.

Set in the 1670s at the height of the Parisian Renaissance, the characters in Congdon’s version are lovably fitful and hilariously engaging. 

The play’s main character is the dysfunctional, hypochondriac Argan, portrayed in this modern adaptation as a female, played by the highly talented Ellen Geer. From the opening scene, the audience is entranced by Geer’s humor alongside Argan’s myriad dysfunctions and self-centered behaviors that wreak hilarious havoc from start to finish.

Plagued by her never-ending string of imaginary maladies, Madame Argan will stop at nothing to get the medical attention she demands, even if that means marrying her daughter, Angelique, to the unsuitable Claude. 

Argan, overwhelmed by bills from her incessant ailments, sees Claude and his father, Dr. Purgeon, as the answer to her healthcare dilemma. 

Although Angelique’s heart is saved for Cleante, the man who desires her hand in marriage, the lovers require the aid of Argan’s good-natured nurse, Toinette, to ultimately foil her mother’s delusional objectives and unite the young lovers.

The path to this happy ending is a side-splitting adventure filled with characters navigating the insanity of Madame Argan’s world. Each goes to unbelievable lengths to satisfy the ultimately insatiable Argan, all in an attempt to fulfill their own basic needs. It’s a wild ride, highly enjoyable and definitely worth taking. 

A strong cast delivers excellent performances. Ellen Geer as Madame Argan is wonderfully funny, carrying the show from start to finish. Melora Marshall as Toinette is, as always, a strong performer, especially shining in her transition to the doctor in search of the world’s most illustrious patient. 

Willow Geer as Angelique is a pleasure to watch, her body language and hyper-emotive portrayal highlighting the tone of the role to perfection. Cameron Rose as Claude steals the show with his half-cocked (think chickens) interpretation of the half-witted son of Dr. Purgeon, a performance you will not soon forget. Katherine Griffith who (happily for us) has returned to the Theatricum stage as Fleurant. While her time on stage is limited, she leaves the audience wanting more. (Look for more of her this season in the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Imaginary Invalid runs through October 2. Completing this year’s series of plays are: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that runs through September 23; Romeo and Juliet, that runs through October 2; TOM, that runs through October 1; and Titus Andronicus, that opens Saturday, July 30 and runs through October 1. 

Tickets range from $10-$38.50; children six and under are free. For a complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets: (310) 455-3723; Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290.­