From the back of the theatre, a high-spirited company of players tumbled down the aisles with chandeliers, costumes, and props in hand. The audience quickly discovered that this traveling troupe would deliver a wonderful night of comedy in Yorktown High School's production of "The Imaginary Invalid."
"The Imaginary Invalid," Moliere's last work, debuted in 1673 starring the playwright himself. The play satirizes the silliness of doctors of the time period who scammed patients, billing them for phony medicines and procedures. The story follows the rich hypochondriac Argan as he forges through life trying to understand the mayhem ensuing in his household while longing for his next dose of unnecessary medicine.
Presented in its original Commedia dell' Arte style, the Yorktown players succeeded in presenting a well-developed period production. One of the most impressive feats was the continuity of the characters, as multiple actors stepped in to play them. A single role might be played by as many as three actors throughout the show, with the transitions cleverly indicated by the passing of a mask or by interludes between acts. The lead role of Argan was shared by Philip Baraoidan, Ben Taylor, and Paul Kenney. Each added his own flair to the character but stayed consistent in landing comedic moments and maintaining the stature and personality of nutty old Argan. Opposite these actors, Emily Johnson playing Angelique, the daughter of Argan, filled the stage with her presence and grace as a proper lady of the time while supplying hilarity to all situations.
The principal actors were handily supported by a talented ensemble cast. The actors took the audience on a fast paced, high energy ride while conquering many challenges presented by the piece. One of these challenges was acting behind the traditional Commedia masks used to represent the stock characters in the show. The actors were mostly successful in exuding a bevy of expressions and emotions solely through the movement of their mouths and eyes. A second challenge was ensuring that the rhyming couplets did not become monotonous or too "sing-songy." The ensemble's clear understanding of the text and the characters' motivations were shown through their skilled delivery. One notable group that embodied the style of Commedia dell' Arte was the Zanni ensemble, the clowns of the show who provided slapstick comedy and physical humor that was the cornerstone of the stylized show.
The technical aspects of this production were simple but exquisite and appropriate to the time period. Costumes were bright and provided clear commentary on a character's social class. Especially noteworthy was the set, a rolling interior of a French estate that could be configured into multiple settings.
In a Commedia dell'Arte tour de force, "The Imaginary Invalid" rejuvenated the period style and provided for a "sickeningly" good night of comedy.
<b>By Alex Turner </b>
South Lakes High School
<i>Cappies is a high school critics and awards program involving more than 50 schools in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas.</i>