Tim Robbins' Los Angeles theatre company, The Actor's Gang, has taken their hit production of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid to the Fifth season at the Rushmore Festival, held on the 500-acre estate in Woodbury, New York, once owned by lawyer and financier Charles Rushmore (namesake of the famous South Dakota Mountain).
What's new about the Actor's Gang reinterpretation of Moliere's classic, running at the Festival from June 26-30, is their use of New York director Beth Milles. Co-artistic director of Off-Broadway's The Sanctuary Theatre, Milles is dedicated to revitalizing under-appreciated classics, and for this production, she has reinstalled the improvisational and commedia-based 'interludes' originally included in the 17th century commedia dell'arte productions.
According to Milles, the actors had only five days, with very little rehearsal time, to adapt the play to the festival staging. The production fits right in to the country summer setting. For the prologue, interlude, and epilogue, the audience is moved from one part of the land to another, the stage area marked by paper bag lanterns. Light bulbs hang from wires strung between trees. Actors hang out from mansion windows above, contributing to the action below.
The main part of the show is staged in the living room of the ballroom mansion. With only one chair on rollers as the set on a hardwood floor, the commedia dell'arte characters creatively use the space, even using the lawn beyond the glass french doors that open up to a country vista.
For the epilogue, the audience is moved to the lakeside, and sat on benches. Blankets are provided for cushion and warmth. In the finale, the main character runs to a dock in the distance that drifts him away.Original music composed in 1673 by Marc Antoine Charpentier expressly for the play, which Moliere named " a comedy ballet," has been reworked and developed further by the director and Los Angeles -based composer Larry O'Keefe. In one case, a Charpentier number using Moliere's words, is jazzed up and performed in an Andrews sister style; another song sports a disco beat.
One character actually wears ballet toe-shoes throughout the entire production. The colorful and intricate costumes and make-up display S&M doctors and nurses, drag queens, clowns and commedia dell'arte characters in a quirky, post modern carnival setting.
The February production in Los Angeles received "Pick of the Week" from the LA Weekly and was a Critic's Choice of the LA Times, in addition to adding a three week extension to it's six week run.
There's not much time to catch the production at the Rushmore Festival, but associate producer Claire Wren, also a company member of the Gang, said they were hoping to bring the show to New York City for a limited run. They are currently interested in the Classic Stage Company theatre on 13th St.
The Actor's Gang production of The Imaginary Invalid will play at the Rushmore Festival for five performances only, June 26-30 at 8 PM. Other highlights of the Festival are Lukas Foss conducting an evening of Bach's music, On Bach/In Bach and an afternoon of contemporary performing arts from China called China Takes.
Specially catered meals are available for $25 at the evening performances, and a round trip bus is available to the estate from Lincoln Center for $15. Ticket reservations and more information are available by calling (212) 207-8334.