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'INVALID' GETS BETTER AFTER A SLOW START
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'INVALID' GETS BETTER AFTER A SLOW START

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Mad magazine meets Moliere in ``The Imaginary Invalid,' an adaptation of the 18th-century French comedy about a hypochondriac.

The imaginary invalid tries to marry off his daughter to a doctor so that he can get free medical care.True love and one of Moliere's cleverer-than-the-master servants manage to set things right by play's end. The UNCG Theatre production hangs its 20th-century comedic turns on this skeleton.

Yet while it aims for belly laughs, on opening night the show drew mostly smiles until the second act. The performers, strongly led by Matt Giehl as Argan the invalid, know what they are doing. And Elizabeth Cox is highly effective as Toinette the servant. Wait until you see her Italian doctor routine.

That may be one of the problems with the production. It is now reduced to comic bits. The audience waits for each to be topped.

It wasn't until Act II that things seemed to pick up and the laughter came more frequently. Inspired by this, the actors began to click on stage.

By the time Dolph Amick came on with his Hitler mustache, German accent and doctoral golf club in hand, the play began to reach a frantic level that gave it a ``Saturday Night Live' flavor.

If that's your glass of French vin ordinaire, you'll enjoy this ``Imaginary Invalid.'

Certainly the set - hundreds of bottles lining the front of the stage and every shelf on it - gives a wonderful look to a stylishly mounted production designed and directed by Robert Hansen.

Angelica the daughter, who has her own ideas about a husband, is well and broadly played by Sarah B. Kelly. As her mother, Sara Sutton prances onstage in a short, black leather skirt.

She's clearly ready to dispose of her husband, Argan, in favor of the shady lawyer she's brought along. Played with Mafia accent and costume by Christopher Sugg, he's out to finagle the estate from the invalid.

Foiling this duo takes the assistance of Argan's brother, played by Wilson B. Cain with just the right mixture of impatience and practicality.

Before this happens, the audience has had a vaudeville routine from Dr. Diaforus, played by Chuck King with a rather good Groucho Marx imitation, and his son.

Jeffrey Dillard plays the nerdy offspring, the man Argan has chosen to be his daughter's husband. King does him in a ``What, me worry?' style of stupidity.

No wonder Angelica prefers Cleante, David P. Heckel's flamboyant but sensible suitor.

Their duet is a wonderful pastiche of song and pantomime, including everything from Beethoven's ``Fifth' to ``Happy Birthday.' It's a comic highlight.

So is the rap number in which the whole cast, dressed in white jackets, finally inducts Argan into the medical fraternity.

As wild as it is - and here the audience was helpless with laughter - it harks back to Moliere's original, a burlesque of a medical ceremony of his era.

Comedy Review

THE IMAGINARY INVALID, adapted by Miles Malleson from the original by Moliere. Presented by UNCG Theatre at 8 p.m. through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Taylor Building Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Sets and direction by Robert Hansen. Lighting by Kent Buess. Costumes by W. Todd Pickett.

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