The French writer Moliere was hilarious. He scrutinized the behaviors of the society of his time and then made fun of them in his plays. Even today, one can “recognize” an aunt, a coworker, even oneself within the lines of his works. That’s because the human frailties that he observed are as real today as they were in the 17th century.

Constance Congdon wrote the adaptation of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid that is currently in repertory at the Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. Here the play is further changed by having Argan, the “imaginary invalid” in question, be a woman, played by Ellen Geer. The part of Argan’s spoiled wife is then switched to a gigolo named Beline (Jonathan Blandino), a twist that adds further humor to their parts.

Argan is a hypochondriac. She takes pills and remedies for everything, and she concludes her life would be much easier if there was a doctor in the house. The easiest way to go about it, she figures, is to marry off her daughter to one. Angelique (played by Geer’s real-life daughter, Willow Geer) has other plans, however.

Physical comedy is an important part of this play. Cameron Rose’s chicken walk and all around eccentric behavior is a hit with the audience. He is Claude, the doctor who Argan is eyeing for her daughter. Angelique’s distressed collapses onto various sofas around the house are hilarious. Max Lawrence makes for an adorable and funny Cleante, Angelique’s real love; and Melora Marshall (as usual) delivers a clever and entertaining Toinette. Geer, as Argan, is impeccable. The cast, which also includes Alan Blumenfeld as Dr. Purgeon and Katherine Griffith as Fluerant, is as a whole lively and amusing. The comedy continues even during the songs, which are original compositions by Marshall McDaniel.

The Theatricum has a stage that is beautiful by itself. However, it was made lovelier by the lilac lighting on the background and other technical choices taken by lighting designer Zach Moore. The costumes and make up are on point (Willow’s shoes are dreamy), good choices by costume designer Vicki Conrad.

The Imaginary Invalid is only two-hours long, including an intermission. It is funny, light, and sends everyone home smiling. You can look forward to an entertaining evening of theater, and as you do, put together a picnic, arrive an hour early, and enjoy the grounds of this theater gorgeously set into the hillside of the Topanga Canyon.

Just a trivia bit… The Imaginary Invalid was Moliere’s last play. He performed the part of Argan himself, and on its premiere week, in the middle of the performance, he suffered a coughing fit. He managed to wrap up the show, but then collapsed backstage and died at home several hours later.  In other words, this play is truly to die for.    (Too soon?)

The Imaginary Invalid will perform this Sunday, July 17, at 3:30 p.m. and continue on selected dates through October 2, 2016. Tickets range $10 to $39. Click this link to purchase tickets and for more information.

The Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd, in Topanga.

Gerald C. Rivers and Shane McDermott  / Photo by Ian Flanders

REVIEW - Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid -  the best medicine now at Theatricum Botanicum

By Dena Burroughs  --  July 15, 2016

Cameron Rose, Willow Geer, Melora Marshall / Photo by Miriam Geer