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Laughter is the best medicine – ‘The Imaginary Invalid’

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Laughter is the best medicine – ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ (Photo courtesy of Heather Elkins/BCT)

Bangor Community Theatre presents Moliere’s classic comedy

BANGOR – A classic comedy is coming to life courtesy of Bangor Community Theatre.

“The Imaginary Invalid,” by the French playwright Moliere, is running at the Bangor Grange Hall through May 7. The production’s director is Irene Dennis. It’s the story of one old man’s unwavering hypochondria and how it impacts the people around him – both those who love him and those who would take advantage of him.

The play was first performed in Paris in 1673. Written in the three-act style of the comedie-ballet, it was the last play written by Moliere, who actually played the lead in that inaugural production – at least until he collapsed during the fourth performance and died shortly afterward. Still, even though it is fast approaching its 350th birthday, the show remains funny, sharp and surprisingly accessible.

Argan (Steve Estey) is a well-to-do Parisian who also happens to be a massive hypochondriac. He has convinced himself that he suffers from a wide variety of vague and ill-defined ailments – a fact of which the less scrupulous medical professionals have happily taken advantage. Argan’s imagined maladies also strain his relationships – with his daughter Angelica (Emma Paterson-Dennis), his wife Beline (Doreen Moody) and his servant, the sharp-tongued Toinette (Moira Beale).

Angelica has fallen in love with the dashing Cleante (Brogan Kelley), but her father has other ideas – he’s ready to marry her off to the nephew of his personal physician, a young man named Thomas (Sam Richie) whose general dim-wittedness and idiocy is outdone only by the pomposity of his father, the smug Dr. Diaforus (Alex Kearns). Love doesn’t enter into it – Argan just wants a few doctors in the family to help defray the huge costs of his many treatments.

Meanwhile, Beline is making plans to ship her stepdaughters – both Angelica and the younger Louise (Rachel Norment) - to a convent and seize control of her husband’s assets with the help of a shady lawyer named Bonnefoy (Roland Dube).

It’s up to the canny Toinette to help Angelica find a way to go against her father’s selfish wishes and marry her beloved Cleante, who has shown up at the house with noble intentions and a terrible disguise. But it is only through quick thinking, clever plotting and thoughtful trickery – plus a little help from folks like Argan’s brother Beralde (Dube again) – that everyone can be made happy.

“The Imaginary Invalid” might be over three centuries old, but it still has the ability to engage modern audiences. It’s still wonderfully written and it’s still very funny, balancing broad and bawdy humor with more sophisticated jokes to allow for a piece that is both of its time and timeless.

It’s certainly an ambitious undertaking for the folks at Bangor Community Theatre. While Moliere is acknowledged as one of dramatic literature’s true greats, his isn’t a name that carries a strong resonant familiarity with modern audiences. And doing justice to one of the stage’s great comedic talents is no doubt a daunting task.

Director Irene Dennis chooses to address this potential disconnect by taking advantage of the more universally humorous aspects of the script. There’s plenty of room for physical comedy here, so Dennis puts her cast through their slapstick paces; she also injects some modernity into a few choreographed moments that will inspire some recognition. And while there’s certainly sophistication to Moliere’s work, it is the embrace of silliness that provides this production’s strengths.

Estey brings a bug-eyed breadth to his portrayal of the titular invalid, leaning into every bit of vaudevillian goofiness with an indisputable enthusiasm. His puffed-up grumbling and ever-evolving exasperation serve as the foundation of the show. Beale’s performance is sharp and particularly self-aware, riddled with winks and elbow nudges tossed at the audience. She’s unafraid to go big and it works for her. Paterson-Dennis captures the innocence inherent to Angelica, with eyes wide and emotions painted in primary hues; it’s a solid performance.

Kelley manages an oddly effective combination of dashing and cherubic as Cleante. The energy he brings to his performance is unexpected while still a good fit; he’s fun to watch. Moody’s Beline is the right kind of overwrought, all sharp tongue and eye rolls. The rest of the cast members – Dube, Kearns, Richie, Norment – flit in and out, doubling and tripling roles and dropping jokes and gags as they go.

The production values of the show are simple, but effective; BCT has done solid work in their utilization of the space. Particular note should be made of the work done by costumer Cheri White, who has put together an aesthetically effective wardrobe for the ensemble.

“The Imaginary Invalid” was funny in 1673 and it is funny in 2017. Between the sweet love story and the slapstick farce, it’s got a little something for everyone. So why not check it out and have a chuckle or two?

After all, laughter IS the best medicine.

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