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The Imaginary Invalid

A scene from <i>The Imaginary Invalid</i>: How do you say “I’m feeling a wee bit ‘jinky’” in French?

A scene from The Imaginary Invalid: How do you say “I’m feeling a wee bit ‘jinky’” in French?

Rated 5.0

Centuries come and centuries go, but human nature doesn’t change. And that’s why a classic comedy like The Imaginary Invalid (written in French more than 300 years ago by Molière) can emerge from hibernation in 2001 and establish itself in a flash as the funniest show in town.

After all, just about everyone knows at least one hypochondriac—someone who worries over every ache and pain.

And we’ve all run across “authorities” who have come up with miraculous drugs that will rev up your sex drive, slim your waist, enhance your muscles and restore your thinning hair. And humor springing from calculating, manipulative behavior never goes out of style.

Frank Condon’s adaptation of Molière’s script moves the action from 17th-century France to the former French colony of New Orleans circa 1912, introducing a ragtime-era sensibility and a racial subtext along the way. He’s also worked in an extravagant style of physical comedy—much of the action has been literally choreographed (by Sunny Smith). This includes a teeny bit of dancing, but also lots of sweeping gestures and (ahem) body English.

There are also strong comic performances by Steven Mackenroth (as the hypochondriac), Tammy Denyse (a savvy head servant), David Campfield (a nervous suitor) and Andrew Hutchinson (an enraged doctor), to name only four of the 14 actors. Add a lovely set (Kale Braden) and costumes (Nancy Pipkin). And director Condon sets up hilarious situations, one after another, ranging from silly to risqué.

This production represents something wonderful that we all too rarely experience in these parts—a strong presentation of a classic script, with a large (and frequently high caliber) cast of actors ranging from pre-teen through middle age, and high-standard production values. (The B Street Theatre does slick work, but sticks with contemporary scripts; the Sacramento Theatre Company only occasionally mounts a show of this size and classic pedigree.)

But the most important thing is that The Imaginary Invalid is funnier than all get-out. Enjoy it while you can.