Arena Stage's production of "The Imaginary Invalid" is quite a bit more than the doctor ordered. Piling gimmick upon gambit and ploy upon play, it gives Moliere's farce all the bounce of a medicine ball.
The comedy, while sometimes funny, is strangely leaden, like a drunk wearing a lampshade at a party. You may chuckle at first -- but not very hard or for long.
With less flatulence and more surgery than director Garland Wright provides, this 17th Century satire of the medical profession would have the bite Moliere intended.
John Wood's translation is serviceable and direct, and several of the performances -- notably Christina Moore as a meddlesome servant and Henry Strozier and Kevin Donovan as a doctor and his son -- seem equally well-aimed. The pimply-looking Donavan, fidgeting like a 3-year-old while declaiming stentorian sentiments, is a comic delight as the unlikely suitor of the invalid's daughter.
And there's nothing wrong with Richard Bauer, foaming at the mouth and breaking wind in the title role, that a little restraint wouldn't cure.
Instead, wretched excess is Wright's prescription. John Arnone's set -- a collection of curtained nooks like a hospital emergency room, with a handless, gilded clock sliding on a neon track behind the proceedings -- seems to be aspiring to a life of its own. What worked in Tom Stoppard's "On the Razzle," the season's first production, seems a pointless distraction here.
It's just a symptom in a show with an overdoes of stage business, which proliferates like the invalid's kingsized enemas. Halo Wines, as the greedy wife, variously screeches and mouths baby-talk. Marilyn Caskey, as the eldest daughter, pouts perpetually and bugs out her eyes. Yeardley Smith disembowls her doll as she talks to her hypochondriac father. Bauer pounds on a trap door before opening it and after closing it. Daniel Benzali, as the sensible brother, grins and shamelessly mugs at the audience...
Everyone's so breathlessly running for yuks that they trample the unembellished ones that Moliere generously supplied.
THE IMAGINARY INVALID -- At Arena's Kreeger Theater through March 6.