These plays were performed last month.

Magruder High School's production of "The Imaginary Invalid," Moliere's 17th-century French comedy about a healthy hypochondriac who, with the aid of his physicians, steadfastly refuses to believe he is healthy, opened last month after a snowstorm to a small but enthusiastic audience. Director Michael D'Anna chose to emphasize the slapstick at the expense of the satire in a production that appealed mostly to younger audiences.

The acting, which was heavy on body language and exaggerated movement, was generally superb and only occasionally overdone. Julie Krall as Toinette, the maid, and David Schmidt as Argan, the hypochondriac, particularly distinguished themselves.

Krall used an enormous variety of expressions to good effect and interacted effectively with other characters. Because Magruder's theater is small and no microphones were used, Schmidt's careful and precise enunciation, coupled with his range of droll facial expressions, made him stand out. The cast as a whole handled the inevitable handful of opening-night glitches so professionally that most in the audience could not even have been aware of them.

The set and the costumes were exceptional. The backdrop was a large, elegant, three-dimensional 17th-century French house. The costumes, including elaborate wigs, were convincing and appropriate for the time period.

Magruder's staging also was a success. The pre-performance announcement in French (followed by an English translation) was a clever touch that helped to establish the tone. The actors' and actresses' entrances were handled creatively and effectively: All were pulled in on small rolling platforms, frozen in a position that reflected their particular characters' foibles.

The Act II love song between Argan's daughter, Angelique (played by Kimberly Buran), and her lover, Cleante (played by Gavin Schmidt) -- with a confounded Argan muttering in the background -- was extremely entertaining.

"The Imaginary Invalid" was Moliere's last play, and it literally killed him. When the play opened in Paris in 1673, Moliere cast himself as Argan. At the end of the fourth performance, Moliere collapsed from a long-standing pulmonary infection and died shortly thereafter in his home. We can all be thankful, however, that Moliere's work survived.

Aashna A. Kircher

Thomas S. Wootton High School

Imagine a story of greed, betrayal and forbidden love, set against a backdrop of courtly dances and flamboyant costumes. Welcome to Magruder High School's production of Moliere's "The Imaginary Invalid," in which the audience was transported to 17th-century Paris for one magical evening.

The satirical comedy uses slapstick and subtle irony to show the folly of its characters. The main character is the affluent Frenchman Argan, a hypochondriac whose incompetent doctors inundate him with high bills for quack treatments. His family only adds to his problems. His new wife, Beline, tries to steal his fortune, and his daughter, Angelique, wants to break free of her arranged marriage and marry her beloved Cleante.

Magruder's cast delivered a strong performance, breathing life into the characters with passion and enthusiasm. David Schmidt, who played Argan, convincingly portrayed an elderly Frenchman with his affected mannerisms, whether waving his cane or stroking his beard. Thomas Diaforus, Angelique's moronic fiance{acute} played by Robert Selman, had the audience roaring with laughter with his antics, such as getting his foot stuck in the chamber pot.

One of the best performances of the night belonged to Julie Krall, whose energy and ardor as Argan's sensible housemaid Toinette often stole the scene. Toinette switched personas when interacting with different characters, and Krall's mastery of a wide range of emotions allowed her to play the charade flawlessly.

As for the two lovers, Gavin Schmidt as Cleante and Kimberly Buran as Angelique showed real chemistry onstage. Director Michael D'Anna effectively used the opening scenes of each act, a dance between the lovers, to show the progression of their relationship. The dancing became less rigid and formal as the play went on, portraying the growing intimacy between the two lovers.

The baroque set, depicting various rooms in Argan's house, elegantly displayed the beauty and splendor of 17th-century French art. The great attention to detail and historical accuracy was evident, with everything from the bed to Argan's wheelchair decorated in the style of the time.

Overall, the merits of Magruder's production of "The Imaginary Invalid" far outweighed the few shortcomings, as it successfully delivered the sharp wit and biting satire of Moliere's classic play.

Han Hu

Montgomery Blair High School

It's a tale of mistaken identities and love triangles, of wrongful imprisonment and raunchy jokes. Its events are almost soap operatic in foolishness and were penned centuries ago, yet "Twelfth Night" as performed by the students of James Hubert Blake High School, was a festival of wits, talent and fun.

The play also was a festival in a more literal sense. Director Patrick Yuran said Blake decided to perform the play in a traditional style and use a pageant wagon, which Renaissance actors traveled in and acted out of.

The play's props were contained within the wagon and set up by the actors themselves. That kind of atmosphere was sustained throughout the night, with brightly garbed actors performing sonnets and making balloon animals for audience members before the show, and acting as audience members themselves during parts of the play in which their characters were not featured.

The simplicity and effectiveness of the pageant wagon setup allowed for simple lighting, which was dimmed and brightened to connote daylight or nighttime, as well as simple special effects: Flute music was performed by an actress onstage, and the cast members sang the play's closing songs.

All the actors demonstrated remarkable mastery of the Shakespearean language and gave stellar performances, especially two of the minor characters. Malvolio (Davis Hasty), the uptight swain led on by a forged letter from Olivia (Louise Schlegel), kept the audience laughing whenever he was onstage, and Andrew Aguecheek (Daryl Jacob) had a comic presence that injected humor into the play's more serious points.

However, some of the difficulties inherent in performing a play such as "Twelfth Night" also came to light: Part of the cast affected overdone British accents, while some kept their normal voices, and cutting the play from four to two hours, while efficient, also contributed to difficulty in understanding the finer details of the plot.

Blake paid discriminating attention to its play's setting and presentation, and the effort showed in impressive costumes and an informal but effective tone. Although "Twelfth Night" was marred by a few small problems, its cast's stellar performance still made it a night to remember.

Tina Peng

Montgomery Blair High School

Last month, James Hubert Blake High School performed "Twelfth Night," a somewhat confusing though comical Shakespearean play.

After being shipwrecked on the island of Illyria, Viola, a girl who thinks her brother, Sebastian, died in the wreck, works in noble Olivia's court as a page, getting that job by dressing as a man and calling herself Cesario. But when Cesario delivers Orsino's love messages to Olivia, Olivia falls in love with Cesario.

Basically, Viola loves Orsino, who loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Cesario (Viola in disguise), which is pretty complicated because people think Viola is a fine man, what with Olivia loving her (or him, shall we say?). Got it?

In the end, after the boisterously entertaining antics of the cast and the flute-playing talent of Rachel Menyuk, Olivia and Sebastian are united, while Viola is thrilled to be in the divine company of Orsino, well-played by junior Pierre Walters.

Before the show and during intermission, the cast strolled about the auditorium, mingling with the audience, taking photographs and making balloon animals, all while being wonderfully in character.

Annie Powell was impressive in the role of Viola -- nary a line stumble to be heard. Lisa DeNio, who played Feste the clown, radiated energy to the audience before, during and after the show, as did the hilarious freshman Gil Hasty, who played Fabian.

Chris Boyd took on the role of Antonio and did it pretty well, despite his lack of an English accent. Lacking nothing was Jimmy Pearson, who was convincing as Sebastian. Comically topping them all was Daryl Jacob, playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek, one of Olivia's many fans.

Technically speaking, the show was fabulous. The performance took place on a stationary set, dominated by a huge, striking wooden wagon. The prop work of Dan Zupan and Julia Mugge was amazing and made the show more effective overall.

Although the show did not call for any extravagant lighting effects, the lighting crew was excellent, as was the sound crew. The authentic-looking costumes and makeup were a sight. "Twelfth Night" is one of those shows in which costumes and makeup make it or break it, and make it they did.

Yvette Menase

Albert Einstein High School