The classical French playwright Moliere wrote formulaic moral satires.
In "The Misanthrope," he heaped scorn on self-imposed alienation.
With "Tartuffe," he set his crosshairs on hypocrisy.
In the waning years of his life, he decided to take on the pitfalls of hypochondria.
And so, he penned "The Imaginary Invalid," just staged by the Monroe County Civic Theater. It ran through Sunday at the Bloomington Playwrights Project, 308 S. Washington Ave.
Also known as "The Hypochondriac" and "The Perpetual Patient," the play largely hinges on the translation.
Working with the original text and many scholarly English translations, director Janice Clevenger readapted the work just for the production. In the hope of making it more accessible to audiences, she cleaned out all of the outdated idioms.
The adaptation worked, particularly with the slapstick tone she decided to take.
Set in Paris in a home's sitting-room, the play concerns the follies of Argan, who is obsessed with the idea that he is plagued by an unspecified sickness. For the duration of the play, he coughs as loudly and obtrusively as he can, hoping to garner the sympathy of his family.
The bumbling physicians he keeps about tell him that it's either his spleen or his liver, recommending absurd remedies like enemas or an exclusive diet of boiled beef. They throw about abstruse Latin terms, convincing him of their knowledge.
Argan is so certain of his illness that he wants his daughter, Angelique, to marry the stilted and foolish medical student Diaforius. He selfishly entertains the hope that he'll get free access to medical council.
But Angelique finds her approved suitor to be an unattractive dolt. His unsavoriness is drawn out a bit too much with his garish costume, but Brent Owens nails down the blustering of a gauche imbecile well. He hams up the role as much as possible, capturing the rollicking spirit of the original work.
Angelique's passion lies with Cleate, who poses as a music instructor to gain access to his love. To complicate matters further, Argan's gold-digging wife Beline threatens to expose the young lovers.
Wade Carney, who played Cleante, often faltered in the delivery of his lines, weakening his effectiveness as a stock Romeo. He seemed almost nervous, which certainly didn't suit the part well.
So Angelique turns to her uncle Beralde and the wily maid Toinette. Although certain disaster seems to loom, a plan is hatched and a frustrated Argan ends up becoming his own doctor.
Moliere died while playing the role of Argan, which he wrote for himself.
But MCCT newcomer Timothy Francis Herron fared much better. His frequent facial expressions of weariness and incredulity well suited the buffoonery he was supposed to project. Taking the tack of thick-headed stubbornness, Herron lent the part much-needed pathos.
Overall, it was a solid production.
The only low point of the evening was a operatic duet between Angelique and Cleate. Watchful over his betrothed daughter, Argon insisted that music lessons be held in his presence. So the couple schemes to hint at their predicament in the hope of softening his heart.
With intended comic effect, it turns out Cleate can't sing worth a tinker's damn. But Angelique was supposed to deliver an impassioned avowal of love. Freshman actress Amalia Shifriss, who was otherwise outstanding, simply couldn't pull it off. It would have been more prudent to cast someone with vocal training.
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