Walking into the lobby of Gremlin Theatre in the Vandalia Towers building in St. Paul, I knew I was in for a unique experience thanks to the Operation game set up in the corner, people in lab coats and neon wigs, and ads for medications, health insurance, and other health care items playing on a TV screen. Continuing on into the performance space, more ads are playing on two TV screens in a wall of whitewashed doors and windows with opaque glass in them. Shortly before showtime the title character (played by co-Artistic Director Erik Hoover) wheels out and starts going through medications and bills, furiously punching numbers into a calculator with a running tape, and occasionally pausing to watch the ads. An ad for a drug called Livwellium comes on, complete with a perky theme song, and soon the ad comes to life as the ensemble enters the performance space singing and dancing with umbrellas. This opening number sets the stage well for wacky fun to come.
|Argan (Erik Hoover) and his doctors|
(photo courtesy of Combustible Company)
And a farce this is, with many hijinks occurring as Argan tries to get his life and health in order, Beline tries to get his money, the daughters try to be happy, and Toinette tries to prove them all wrong. There's truly not a weak link in the diverse and talented 13-person cast. As directed by co-Artistic Director Kym Longhi, the campily comedic tone is consistent across the board, with much physical comedy, and even a touch of poignancy thrown in since we are dealing with serious issues of health here. Everyone in the cast is truly a delight to watch, including Anna Pladson and Joni Griffith as Argan's daughters; Ashawnti Sakina Ford and Daniel Sakamoto-Wengel as the smart servants Toinette and Guy (speaking occasional sign language to keep up the ruse of Guy's deafness and muteness, and because their parents are deaf); Antonio Duke as Argan's brother, his opposite in every way; Julianna Drajko as Argan's delightfully mischievous wife (and his beloved first wife in a flashback); Jonathan Beller as the scheming laywer; Ricky Morisseau as Angelique's charming love interest; and Isaac Bont and Jonathan Saliger in hilarious dual roles.
|Angelique and Cleante sing their love (Joni Griffith and |
Ricky Morriseau, photo courtesy of Combustible Company)
Like everything in the show, the design of the show is well thought out, with video design meshing with the aforementioned wall of doors that open to reveal props. And the bright, colorful, almost cartoonish costumes really pop and fit with the fun farcical tone of the show (costume design by Renee Hatton, set design by Paul Herwig, prop design by Kym Longhi, video design by Jim Peitzman).
This is only the third piece from Combustible Company, but it's enough for me to know not to miss a rare chance to see their work. They only come along every couple of years, but it's worth the wait, and it's obvious how much thought and detail is put into every show that they do. The Imaginary Invalid continues through April 28; highly recommended for a fun, farcical, enjoyable comedy that's classic yet modern and timely.