PORT TOWNSEND — The future is a question mark, the past is gone; the time to make theater is now. Such is the attitude of Port Townsend High School senior Orion Pendley as he begins directing “The Imaginary Invalid,” Molière’s play about health and the human condition.
The Parisian’s work, known as a “comedie-ballet” when he published it in 1673, has been adapted by American playwright Constance Congdon for modern thespians.
Pendley, 18, is that, as director of a 13-member cast and crew who meet and rehearse entirely online.
“The Imaginary Invalid” is the story of Argan the hypochondriac, his doctor, his family members and their love interests — and “the script is phenomenal; so funny,” Pendley said.
With its wacky characters and elevated language, it reminds him of Shakespeare.
Pendley is acquainted with that playwright, too, having appeared in Key City Public Theatre’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” last summer.
“The Imaginary Invalid” is the 2020 Teen Initiative play at the Key City Playhouse, except it’s not expected to arrive on an actual stage until sometime this summer.
Performances of last year’s Teen Initiative production, “Alice in Wonderland,” happened in August*, and tentative dates for “Imaginary” are set for mid-July.
Yet it’s hard to know whether that will be too soon, said Denise Winter, Key City artistic director.
Pendley auditioned his actors — online — after the shutdown of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Port Townsend High School’s spring musical, and of the whole campus and school district for the remainder of the academic year because of COVID-19 precautions.
“I needed something to work on to keep myself going,” he said. “For our leadership team and the cast, [‘Imaginary Invalid’] is something we can pour our energy into, to fill the gap.”
Pendley is an artist of fierce energy, the star of last spring’s “Cabaret” and part of the ensemble in last fall’s “Our Town,” both at the high school.
He appeared in the new play “Adults” at the Port Townsend PlayFest last month, days before Gov. Jay Inslee issued his statewide stay-at-home order.
Today he’s focused on the project at hand. And Pendley touts his colleagues, who include Port Townsend High School freshmen Riley Gregg, Zoe Cook and Trillium Burbank.
Gregg not only plays the title role in “Imaginary Invalid,” but has also set the cast and crew up on Discord, an online meeting platform he finds more effective than Zoom.
Pendley, for his part, is preparing for online rehearsals with his cast, which includes students in Forks, Port Townsend and Quilcene.
Sorina Johnston plays Argan’s maid Toinette, Pascale Sanok is Argan’s second wife Béline, Taylor Germau is his daughter Angelique and Aiden Hill is Cléante, her would-be sweetheart.
Melody Douglas portrays Dr. Purgeon, Julia Neville is the apothecary Monsieur Fleurant, Cook is Angelique’s suitor Claude de Aria, and Burbank is the notary Monsieur de Bonnefoi.
Halie Jones is stage manager while Rachel Doan and Hunter James are design crew.
Winter noted that the Teen Initiative, in its fifth year, is funded by Key City patrons who want local youth to have equal access to the spring-into-summer program.
The objective, she said, is to open it to all students who want to participate, at no cost to their families.
Normally Key City’s June Garden Party includes a fund-a-need section with guests raising bidding paddles to support the students. The program works out to $275 per participant, and donors’ giving has been such that no student has been turned away, Winter noted.
This year, the Garden Party may well look quite different — as will the rest of Key City’s summertime programming. Shakespeare in the Park, set for August, will depart from plans laid earlier this year.
The next playhouse production, “Around the World in 80 Days,” will arrive in Port Townsend, Winter said, although she doesn’t know when.
“We will be here for our public,” she said. “We’re going to be judicious about it,” waiting until it’s safe to gather at the theater.
In the meantime, Pendley and crew are sharing ideas, working on lines and creating an “Imaginary Invalid” as only they can.
“Even if things go awry,” he said, and the performances can’t happen, “I really want to make the process worthwhile.
“We’re just going ahead.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.