Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Imaginary Invalid

Imaginary Invalid
Adapted by: Oded Gross and Tracy Young
Date Attended: 13 September 2011
Venue: Angus Bowmer at OSF
Director: Tracy Young

Why this play now?

OSF’s adaptation of Imaginary Invalid is far from the original, but with translations of Moliere, that’s generally a good thing. It’s difficult to hold comedy up to a standard the way I do for dramas. The fact of the matter is, comedy is harder than drama. Everyone has a different sense of humor. And just like I would want to shoot myself if someone forced me to watch the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, I imagine some would rather have their feet boiled than sit through a 1960s Paris themed, commedia dell’arte adaptation of a French comedy.

Lest I be accused of being a fuddy-duddy, I should explain my views on theatre comedies. Generally, if the comedy is not contributing anything new, I ask myself, why should I care? I have no patience for Neil Simon, for instance, or most of Michael Frayn’s work because their plays have nothing to offer beyond the evening of entertainment and most fail at that (explain to me why I should care about a relationship comedy in the 60s set in New York when there’s little-to-no mention of actual issues happening in the era and in that particular city). And I do use the word entertainment as opposed to theatre because there is a difference. That being said, I have enjoyed recent interpretations of Moliere. I worked at Intiman Theatre when they performed a new adaptation of Doctor in Spite of Himself which was heavily inspired by commedia and incorporated many comedic elements that I enjoyed and that elevated the piece to theatre because it resonated beyond the slapstick jokes (though there were also many dick, fart, and poop jokes as well). So, in other words, the comedy has to operate on other levels in order for me to enjoy it fully.

What I enjoyed about this production of Imaginary Invalid is how it balanced the comedy with stakes that were very real which was something Doctor didn’t do. I have not read the original work, but according to the dramaturgical program Illuminations, the play deviates from the original intent of the play which was to showcase doctor’s, or other persons in power, ability to harm for their own gain even if they are supposed to heal. This adaptation instead focuses on how to live life. Additionally, the adapters create a romance between the maid and Argan’s brother, introduce a new character as the maid’s brother (and incorporate feigned deaf and dumbness into that role for great comedic effect), and allow the other unattractive daughter to have a romance with the unattractive doctor-suitor.

It took me a while to warm up to the comedy of the piece. Fart and poop jokes abound, but there were also moments of great tenderness and even brilliant humor. By the second act, I was sold on the hyper-sixties music and the romances between the characters. I especially loved Toinette’s, the brilliant maid, relationship with the daughters, Argan, Beralde, and her brother. Introducing the romance between Toinette and Beralde introduced a level of emotion I wasn’t expecting.

By the closing song, I was happy that the story had taken the turn it did. It’s nice when a comedy can transcend comedy while still fitting into the mold. Everyone still got their happy ending, but the play also took the risk of telling a more interesting story than just a comedic vent piece about doctors.

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Power of the mind to harm the body
  • “All you need is love”
  • Living life instead of trying to live longer
  • Corruption and fallibility of doctors
  • Various deception lazzis
  • Miscommunication

And, poop, fart, and penises 

What moments encapsulate the story?

  •  Oldest daughter’s plea to let her fool herself as she exited the stage – this was the moment signifying the big shift in the play taking it from simple comedy to a more complex story, though still not necessarily drama
  • Relationship build between maid and Beralde up to the kiss
  • Not really important, but a funny moment: Wife saying she wore a WWJD bracelet when she was young to show her devotion to Jesus and a watch that said “What time would Jesus think it is?”

Were there moments of disunity, or areas where the story-telling deviated from the apparent desired direction? (apparent in this case meaning the direction as it appeared to this member of the audience)

Having Argon on stage at the end of intermission was a little strange because there had been no precedent for it in the show. I also didn’t think the musician speaking with one member of the audience trying to write a song about her added anything to the story, though it was done in a very charming way and was incorporated into the show, so it didn’t feel like a waste.

Overall, the production was well-suited to the Paris 1960s theme. The music had some hits and misses, but the final song resonated, especially when they chose to cut-off the last word. I also thought the line-up to curtain call was well done with the gap between Toinette and Guy representing Beralde. I was almost sad to see him actually re-join for the curtain call, though it made sense that he did, and I’m not one to prevent an actor from taking a bow especially if it’s a comedy.

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