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January 19th, 2011 BEN WATERHOUSE | Theater
 

The Imaginary Invalid (Portland Center Stage)

Who’s up for some 17th-century fart gags?

     
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Why has Molière endured? No other non-Anglophone playwright of any century has anything approaching the 17th-century Frenchman’s presence in the English-speaking world. Colleges don’t often trot out Lope de Vega or Pedro Calderón de la Barca, who provide equal opportunity for dress-up, if not nearly as many dick jokes, but Tartuffe is ubiquitous.

Maybe we’re attracted to Molière’s anarchism, the way his plays overturn the hierarchy of parents and children, masters and servants. Or maybe we just like the sophomoric humor. Constance Congdon, whose liberal adaptation of The Imaginary Invalid plays this month at PCS, seems to favor the latter explanation. Her script possesses all the maturity of The Ren & Stimpy Show. Chris Coleman’s production puts a lot of impressive talent onstage, festooned with bright, polished frippery, all in service of a hundred fart gags.

Coleman’s invalid is David Margulies, an exceptional actor whose credits encompass The Sopranos, Angels in America and Ghostbusters (he played the mayor). He brings to the role of Argan a befuddled, doddering disposition and Walken-esque cadence that makes the flatulent, selfish coot—who attempts to marry his daughter off to a preening doctor to save on the unnecessary medical care he delights in receiving—more likeable than he has any right to be. He is supported by our own Sharonlee McLean and Christine Calfas as Argan’s maid and wife, the very dashing John Wernke as his daughter’s would-be lover and Barry del Sherman who, as the quack Doctor Argan, keeps better comedic time than anyone else onstage.

I don’t want to sound dismissive, especially since most other viewers seemed to enjoy the show wholeheartedly, but for all the great costumes and vigorous craziness, the flatulence and ribaldry, I was bored and confused. Why does one character have a thick French accent, and another speak like a gay George W. Bush? Why does the set employ the severe forced perspective of a cardboard theater diorama? And how long can we reasonably be expected to laugh at diarrhea jokes before they just get gross?


SEE IT: The Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700, pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday-Sunday, noon Thursdays, closes Feb. 6. $33-$58 adults, $18 students and youth.
 
Tuesday, Jan 25
Gerding Theater
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