Molire graced Louis the XIV’s court with comic plays that dwell on the hardships of love when it is thwarted by misunderstandings and exaggerations. Today, Molire’s comedy still incites audiences to wild laughter. One key to the French playwright’s technique is his use of the servant, a figure who often somehow succeeds in both upsetting things and resolving the comedy’s main problem. Prudence (Catalina Maynard) was the faithful servant at the core of The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire). In one humorous line, our dear Pru easily sums up Molire’s play and her master’s foolishness: “Though he may appear to eat, sleep, and drink like everyone, he is very, very, very ill!” Director Roger DeLaurier and adapter Patricia Troxel succeeded in transplanting Molire’s traditional French humor into a hilarious English version of Le Malade Imaginaire.
Silas Argan (William Youmans) is master, father, and apparently quite ill. With a few meager coughs here and there and then a chronic rush for the bathroom, Argan is our imaginary invalid. Indulging in purges, enemas, and other “remedies,” Argan is milked of his fortune by physicians who profit from his imaginary illness. In the midst of this medical fantasy, Argan plans for his daughter Abigail (Vanessa Ballam) to marry an eager suitor fresh out of the university, Thomas Dickinson (Colum Parke Morgan). However, Abigail has fallen in love with handsome Nathaniel (Tobias Shaw). In one of the funniest scenes of the play, Dickinson, strictly directed by his mother The Widow Deliverance Dickinson (Leslie Brott), “triiiiiumphantly” recites his love to Abigail while Argan, Nathaniel, and Prudence look on with astonishment. Abigail refuses to marry such a lout, and Argan is pushed by his money-seeking second wife Lydia (Gwendolen Morton) to enter Abigail into a convent. In this mess, Argan remarks that he wouldn’t be able “to afford being sick!” Nevertheless, our loyal servant’s cleverness saves all.
This production of The Imaginary Invalid relies heavily on outstanding performances by its male actors, especially Youmans. Argan’s evidently exaggerated illness is beyond hilarious. In the end, Molire’s ancient morale still applies today: Enjoy life and live it in your own way.