‘The bacon’s been keeping you alive’

Butte College pulls off groovy adaptation of Molière’s wacky com"die-ballet

Argan (Christopher Sullivan) and his scheming wife, Beline (Jazmin Siguenza).

Argan (Christopher Sullivan) and his scheming wife, Beline (Jazmin Siguenza).

Photo By kyle emery

Butte College presents The Imaginary Invalid, Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 15-17, 7:30 p.m., & Sunday, Nov. 18, 2 p.m., at Butte College Black Box Theatre.
Tickets: $10-$15.

Butte College Black Box Theatre
Arts Building, main campus

Nothing says “18th-century French comedy” more to me than the peace-loving, psychedelic ‘60s.

Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so, as the Butte College Performing Arts Department’s recent production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid is set wholly in a groovy 1960s Paris townhouse with walls that shimmer in black-lit, bioluminescent colors. Think mini-skirts paired with thigh-high white boots; girls dancing in golden cages; and musical numbers reminiscent of Hairspray.

But it all makes fantastic sense, as Molière is famous for a genre of drama known as comedie-ballet, which intersperses spoken word with music and dance, a perfect fit for the go-go ‘60s. You dig?

After a brief introduction by a pair of hippie-era minstrels, we meet Argan (a terrifically believable Christopher Sullivan), a middle-aged man who, when not slumped in his easy chair swaddled in an enormous robe bemoaning his many supposed illnesses, is performing verbal acrobatics with his sassy and smart servant, Toinette (the dynamic Lauren O’Connor). Argan’s worries center around how he will continue to pay for the many medicines, elixirs and (ahem) enemas that he believes are keeping him alive.

But he has a plan: to marry off his younger, “pretty” daughter (the one “without the hump"), Angelique (an adorably Amy Adams-esque Kasandra Partain) to his doctor’s nephew (who is also a doctor), the simpering Thomas Diafoirus (Avery Sintes). He sees not dollar bills in this union but rather a continuous source of free medical care (cue contemporary dialogue on socialized medicine). She, of course, is already in love with Cleante (Michael Jolley), her tall, pale and frizzy Romeo whom she just met last week.

Meanwhile, Argan’s sly and sexy second wife, Beline (a sly and sexy Jazmin Siguenza), while encouraging her husband’s healthy diet of bacon ("The bacon’s been keeping you alive. Don’t stop eating it.”) is plotting with her lover and lawyer, Monsieur de Bonnefoi (Adrian Diaz, channeling a young Chris Kattan from Saturday Night Live), to abscond with all of Argan’s money on event of his death (or, better yet, before). The only hitch: Bonnefoi faints whenever he utters a lie, which, given their subterfuge, is often. The only thing more enjoyable than seeing Diaz theatrically faint is to watch him recover and reveal the inner workings of his troubled mind.

Other notable and crowd-pleasing performances include Argan’s brother, Beralde (an impressively chiseled Marques), who effectively channels the hot/cool blaxploitation sexual energy of the 1970s; Louison, Argan’s daughter “with the hump” (Heather Bankston), who gives the performance its distinctive Hairspray feel; Dr. Purgon (Autumn Rose Jay, frightening with her thin beard) and his eager minions; and of course, Guy (Tyler Hawthorne), the brother of Toinette, whose one goal in life is to write lyrics that will “change someone’s perspective on the world.” Watch for his incredible ability to break the fourth wall and cleverly interact with the audience while remaining in character.

The overall performance was characterized by rapid-fire delivery (identified in the playbill as “Italian Style") that could, at times, be challenging to follow. Except for a few minor audio glitches, the sound and lighting were top notch and well suited to the atmosphere of the play. The performance contains adult themes, sexual language, religious satire and dark imagery and is intended for mature audiences that don’t mind a little good-natured potty humor as well.