On Friday, Stephen and I went to the opening of The Imaginary Invalid at Portland Center Stage. Molière! Never saw Molière before. [or an adaptation of.] I'd heard somewhere that it's supposed to be promoted as a night of a hundred and one fart jokes, and if you know me, you know I'm squeamish about the things that happen in that corner of the body. I even tailor my curse words to stay away from ones involving that corner of the body. But there's something about combining that kind of humor with a bit of age and a bit of French that... elevates it*. So, I was ready for the fart jokes. In fact, at intermission, I turned to Stephen and said, I want more fart jokes.
Because, really, they're contained in... I don't know, probably just the first twenty minutes or so of the play? OK, no, I really didn't need any more; I was just proud of myself for saying the word out loud. The evening was plenty entertaining without more. Lots of laughs all the way through.
As broad as the humor is, this is the kind of play that relies heavily on its players. I think the stage was set (forgive the theatrical expression but somehow I can't come up with another right now) for the audience to have a good time by the opening sequence of Argan sitting in his chair, looking through his medical bills and lamenting his bad health. Feeling for his pulse and wondering if he's dead. David Margulies' Argan is sweetly naive as well as funny so you fall in love with him. In fact, I think the sequences where Argan worries over and "works" his maladies were some of my favorite parts of the show because they were so charming. Margulies' Argan is someone you want to mother, even if he's infuriating. And because of this, the interaction between Argan and his maid and sometimes-willing confidant Toinette has a sweetness behind the banter. Toinette is played by Sharonlee McLean. Funny and particular as always. I like her in everything I see her in, which is a lot.
[Since I'm posting pictures, look at the costumes. Really neat. Of course, I had an expert in historical fashions with me, and Stephen was impressed. We had a really interesting conversation about the set and costume design, which Stephen said looked to be inspired by the Dutch masters. The set looked like one of those lovely Dutch interiors that have inspired Stephen more recently in his own painting--the lines of the room and the sunlight pouring through the window--and he said the wardrobe went right along with that style. Consistent and well done.]
And Christine Calfas! Another standout. She can't help but fill the stage with her energy and her presence. Her part (Beline) is written to be so one-sided and unsympathetic that, if they put a lesser actress - even a pretty good actress - in that part, it could come off irritating. But Christine Calfas is hilarious and sexy. Her rant toward the end of the performance is so sumptuous, you wish you could take all the hates you're afraid to voice (especially the guilty ones) and have yourself a rant as good as hers.
For the couple of other performances I'd like to make note of, I'm going to let Stephen do the talking [in quotes], since I thought what he said was very apt.
John Wernke's Cleante [flinging his long, blond hair around... in love with his beauty, in love with his theatre, in love with Argan's daughter]: "Sweet knucklehead."
Danny Wolohan's Claude: "A cross between the Chicken Lady and George W. Bush."
There are three tiny moments, three tiny perfect outbursts that each last a second or two. One belongs to Wolohan, one to Wernke, one to Calfas. I won't spoil them by trying to describe them, but I'll just say: these alone are worth the price of a ticket.