Sabin Epstein's adaptation of Molière's screed against the medical profession takes place in a ghoulish, haunted-mansion sort of world, and, while intellectually it's easy to appreciate why such an intriguing choice was made, it just doesn't work. Director Joseph Graves has allowed his show to become cluttered with unnecessary effects, the first of which is the top of the show when the performers, each lit by a portable uplight, set the stage. The ghost-story-'round-the-campfire look is effective (crepuscular lighting by Peter Gottlieb), but should it take five minutes of pacing and placing to achieve what is, essentially, curtain up? Even the set (Thomas Buderwitz) falls prey, presenting an environment hampered by unnecessary objects just hanging about. If ungainly items are suspended above a stage (and I'm not discussing the chandeliers), they really need a bit more justification than mere decorative whimsy.
The acting is an equally jumbled collection. Apollo Dukakis as Argan, the man whose life consists primarily of consuming medicine and then figuring out how to underpay for it, is an almost innocuous presence as he lies on his bed while the world schemes around him. His brassy maid, Toinette (Gail Shapiro), is played as Rocky Horror's Magenta but with her hair down, and it's more of a reference than a real character. Mary Dolson, playing Argan's daughter, Angelique, displays little range and doesn't even appear to be a part of the company. On the other hand, Ann Marie Lee as Argan's duplicitous second wife, Beline, owns the show, so rich is her exploration of lust, greed, and vanity. The always sepulchral William Dennis Hunt is quite wonderful as Argan's brother and as one of his quack doctors. Louis Lotorto essays three characters with aplomb. He is primarily the romantic lead—and a fine one—as well as an especially macabre physician with a pneumatic enema (a performance best measured by spittle spewed).
Angela Balogh Calin's costumes—and I guess credit is due for the consistency of the inconsistencies—are an impressive if mismatched lot. Argan is pretty much limited to bedclothes, but it's Katy-bar-the-door on the rest: Toinette gets a leather bustier, Beline is in a positively architectural abbreviated pannier, Angelique swans about in a long tutu, and the ensemble is clad in items that look more disinterred than built. Individually they're lovely; as a collection it's pointless.
Mind you, I applaud them for taking the chance. The piece gets done so often, heck, why not play with it? The end proves to be sadly apropos, though. The cast is called upon to don prosthetic canines to recite a ceremony in bogus Latin. It's a clever idea but, as everyone tries to lisp around his or her outsized teeth, the point and humor are lost.
"The Imaginary Invalid," presented by and at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. (in repertory). $22-38. (818) 240-0910.