There are two remedies for what ails the uneven production of Molière’s “The Imaginary Invalid” at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls: Time and pace.
The evening starts with great promise, before a word is even spoken. Director Pamela Moller Kareman stages a lovely device to take the 1673 play from the here-and-now to the then-and-there.
Theatergoers enter to a stage unset. The ghostlight is lit, suggesting a sleeping theater. A Coke machine glows upstage. Soon, the stage door flies open and actors enter and fill the space.
As a stride piano tune plays, actors pull out laptops and iPods, begin to stretch, grab one last cigarette before the show begins. One backpacked actor tries to make sense of a Metro-North train schedule.
When the signal is given, they spring into action, effortlessly releasing black curtains to mask the backstage, spinning panels to create windows, undraping furniture. In the blink of an eye, we are in the Paris home of Monsieur Argan, on Jason Bolen’s remarkably simple but effective set, impeccably lit by David Pentz.
And all is possibility.
The problems arise soon thereafter, when the words begin to flow — or rather, stumble — from John Tyrrell, as the hypochondriac of the title. Tyrrell’s delivery comes in fits and starts and many of his lines are inexplicably delivered sotto voce.
Likewise, Allyce Beasley’s command of her lines and delivery — as the wise-cracking maid, Toinette — seems unsure and hesitant.
Both have a handle on their characters; it’s pace they need to work on.
Miles Malleson’s translation of the clever Molière story — about a hypochondriac who’ll marry his daughter to a doctor just to get free medical advice — puts a premium on rapid-fire dialogue that requires rapid-fire delivery.
Failure to keep up the pace lets the air out of the soufflé.
With time, though, may come the timing exhibited by the otherwise strong cast, albeit in supporting roles: Bruce Sabath, of Katonah, is fine as the wise counsel, Béralde; the radiant Quinn Cassavale drips duplicity as Argan’s new wife, Béline; John Shuman is pitch-perfect in two roles, as Dr. Diaforus and Dr. Purgon.
Sari Caine channels Lily Tomlin’s Edith Anne, complete with stuffy-nosed delivery, as little Louise. Neal Mayer shows his mastery for mimicry in two roles: as the “My Cousin Vinny” shady lawyer who declares that “the law can be eluded” and as the German apothecary wielding a nasty looking device. Israel Gutierrez’s nerdy take on the dim-witted young doctor, Thomas, demonstrates focus and attention to timing. And Libby Conkle and Billy Lyons are fine as the lovers Angelica and Clèante.
The cast works at the service of Molière’s message:?a diatribe against the mumbo-jumbo of the medical profession.
Indeed, the evening ends on a high-note, with an extended rap-like song that shows how capable the cast is.
Credit artistic director Moller Kareman for putting the rarely performed work on the Schoolhouse schedule.
By modern standards, a cast of 10 is prohibitively costly, but Moller Kareman is not averse to such risks, having staged a mammoth and worthy production of “The Crucible” a couple of seasons back with a cast of 19.
Kimberly Matela’s wildly inventive costumes are an explosion of color and whimsy, well-suited to the material.
With a bit more attention to the pace of the piece, this patient can easily recover. With a four-weekend run, the lines may come quicker, the gaps may fill and the piece may gel.
Here’s wishing this “Invalid” a speedy and complete recovery.
“The Imaginary Invalid”
When: Weekends through June 20. 8 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m., Sundays.
Where: The Schoolhouse Theater, 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls.
Tickets: $30 Thursdays and Fridays; $32 Saturdays and Sundays.
Photo by Ron Marotta: The Schoolhouse Theater production of Molire’s “The Imaginary Invalid” stars, from left: Allyce Beasley, John Tyrrell and Libby Conkle.