Last Friday the IU Theatre opened its 2013-14 season at 7th & Jordan.
And how better to do that than with a timeless comedy whose topics could be torn from the front page of your favorite news blog: the high cost of prescriptions, the quality of health care, the confusing mumbo jumbo that passes for diagnoses…. All these topics are skewered and sent up in this classic farce by Molière about a hypochondriac who insists on marrying off his beautiful daughter to a doctor, just to ensure he will always have access to free, affordable health care.
Directed by guest artist and Norvelle Visitor, Gavin Cameron-Webb, The Imaginary Invalid continues its run tonight, Tuesday, October 1, at 7:30 p.m. We play each evening through Saturday night at 7:30, and we present a matinee at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
The production is delightful, funny, and energetic. But don’t take our word for it. Below are two reviews of the comedy, the first from The Herald-Times and their corresponding online news site, HeraldTimesOnline.com. If you subscribe to the H-T, you can follow the preceding link to the review, or you can read it here, for the news organization has given us permission to republish reviewer Doris Lynch’s critique.
Likewise, George Walker, WFIU’s producer and on-air broadcast director, has reviewed the play, which we reprint below.
Heartsick, lovesick and doctor crazy: IU puts on ‘The Imaginary Invalid’
By Doris Lynch H-T Reviewer
Despite a gaseous soundscape, an all-too-ready chamber pot and much talk of failing spleens and livers, Indiana University’s production of Moliere’s last play, “The Imaginary Invalid,” makes for a lark of an evening: witty, sardonic, clever and at times gut-wrenchingly funny. Gavin Cameron-Webb’s direction emphasizes spot-on timing, especially in the many scenes where the characters verbally spar with each other.
First an upfront warning: if you harbor any hypochondriacal tendencies or believe that the medical profession should never be mocked, then this play is not for you.
Josh Krause’s Argan bellowed out his symptoms, leapt out of his wheelchair, and loudly expressed the vim and vigor of a man truly proud of his illnesses before sinking into the near-whisper and strained speech of someone truly convinced he’s dying. What a superb performance Krause gave. He’s one of those actors who use their entire body to express a character. To watch him shake violently from head to toe when Argon believed death was near was hilarious.
As Beline, Argon’s wife, Emily Harpe brought the right mix of practicality, charm on demand and clever scheming. She made a beautiful but cruel stepmother to Angelique (Courtney Lucien). Lucien brought to this daughter’s role passion, gentleness and the stubbornness of a woman who would prefer life in a convent to marriage to the wrong man. Because not only is Argan obsessed with his many illnesses,but he also plans to marry his eldest daughter to a doctor, so that he can benefit from treatments close at hand.
Grant Niezgodski’s Cleante, the substitute music teacher, strides across the stage and sings a comically off-key opera-on-the-spot with and to Angelique. Niezgodski captures the quick vacillations between hope and despair of a man in love with a woman much above his station.
And as the linchpin in the household — the servant who rules — Nicole Bruce gives a fine comic performance as the ever plotting Toinette, sometimes aligning herself with the mistress Beline, sometimes with Cleante, even once or twice with Argan, but always working toward Angelique’s happiness. The rapid name-calling shouting matches between Toinette and Argan were a hoot.
Cameron-Webb’s production interweaves the 17th century original story with 21st century scenes with doctors and a representative of big Pharma. This adaptation by James Magruder adds modern slang that Bruce, in particular, slings very well. On the whole, both the time shift and modern lingo worked, but several of the scenes in front of the pharmaceutical ad wall felt extraneous. They also interrupted the 17th century story flow. That said, the actors playing medical personnel were good, particularly Evelyn Gaynor as Doctor Marge.
Moliere’s dialogue shows an intimate familiarity with diseases and 17th century treatment, some of which he learned from his years suffering from tuberculosis. Ironically, while performing the title role in this play before King Louis XIV, he suffered coughing attacks and died a few hours later from a hemorrhage.
Moliere wrote the play in a kind of faux Latin. This script generally does not follow that format except near the end, when the 21st century doctors and the drug salesman meet Argan and spout Latin as they welcome him into the fold.
Johna Sewell’s costumes, especially the gaudy, ribbony, high-heeled ones that made the doctors look like ruffled gnomes in drag, added layers of sarcasm and fun, while Andrea Ball’s elegant 17th century set served as counterpoint to the inventories of bloodletting, leeches and laxatives.
As our nation debates our medical care future, this worthy production will give you a couple of hours to laugh and mock the 17th century medical establishment and especially one (physically) healthy man in its thrall.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theater and Drama
WHAT: “The Imaginary Invalid” by Moliere
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28, Oct. 1 — 5. 2 p.m. Oct. 5
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: $15 — $25. Call 812-855-1103 or buy online at www.theatre.indiana.edu.
MORE: Oct. 1 post-show talkback with cast, crew and designers led by Thomas Shafer, dramaturg.
Molière’s Satire On Unhealthy Care: “The Imaginary Invalid”
Posted September 30, 2013
Saturday night’s IU Theatre goers and I, all ready for Molière’sThe Imaginary Invalid, were a bit perplexed as the lights went up. We weren’t looking in on 17th-century French farce. We were viewing a TV style talk show with a host and four doctors in white coats and scrubs. Our concern eased as the topic for discussion was hypochondria and it did lead neatly into the first scene of the play.
Throughout the evening additional commentary from the doctors and commercials for current products like Viagra and a few historical remedies such as leeches, prescribed for the ills mentioned in the play punctuated and commented on the drama. The doctor panels formed nice breaks and were thematically tied in, but the actors only occasionally seemed comfortable on their TV stools.
Director Cameron-Webb describes the plot of The Imaginary Invalid as a stock farce.The invalid has convinced himself that he’s deathly ill from a comical battery of ailments. His approach to an affordable health care act is to marry his daughter off to a doctor. She wants the best care for him, but her affections are elsewhere. His gold digging second wife is just waiting for him to die.Rounding out the principals are a clever house maid and the invalid’s sense talking brother.
Josh Krause was a charmer as the irritating and wily invalid. Courtney Lucien was his lovely love struck daughter. Daniel Sheffer was very funny as the father’s intended, a young doofus of a medic. Emily harp was regal and vulpine as the invalid’s scheming second wife. Nicole Bruce was a delight as the much maligned and feisty maid. Adam St. John had to handle an overlong discussion of the ins and outs of the medical scene, but remained the picture of probity as the invalid’s sensible brother.
Andrea Ball’s gilded wall panels with checkerboard floor and ceiling made a lovely setting. Johna Sewell’s costumes from the simple white coats and scrubs of the doctors to the baroquely comical outfits of the visiting doctors were very much part of the drama.
Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid was and is a very funny play. While mixing in modern scenes this production pays full attention to honor the original. Saturday night’s audience laughed frequently and even spontaneously applauded some of the scenes.
The IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Dance’s production in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre continues Oct 1-5.