Pasadena, California, November 5, 2016—
NO REASON TO BE too serious about this: Molière's The Imaginary Invalid is pure comedy, the child of commedia dell'arte and the classical French comédie, laced with satire against class-based social order and the medical profession, but driven by a lust for laughs.
And yet. Molière's targets deserve his barbs as much as ever. And in the end Molière himself collapsed playing the Invalid on stage, and died within hours. "I told you I was sick," reads the joke epitaph; days before the possible death of American democracy, it's not entirely funny.
We're here on the biannual visit to A Noise Within, the repertory company who will give us Tom Stoppatd's Arcadia today and Jean Genet's The Maids tomorrow. It's the right sequence, I think: Molière puts us in a take-a-cosmic-view perspective, from his three-century distant perch.
ANW is playing a streamlined and updated adaptation (by Constance Congdon) which cuts three or four minor characters but preserves much of the detail — including the thunderclaps accompanying every reference to the evil stepmother. And I am particularly taken with the idea of casting the always remarkable Deborah Strang as the maid Toinette, a role usually given to an ingenue.
Here, Toinette assumes a position equal to Argan, the title character. She is figuratively and literally behind and above it all, often perched on a ladder, shelving bottles of Argan's effusions, or trying to let a little light and air into his close and stifling world.
Apollo Dukakis manages to round his character, often as appealing and sympathetic in his vulnerability as ludicrous in his gullible self-involvement. (I couldn't help finding Argan-Toinette reminiscent of Trump-Hillary.) And Dukakis, with the transformative assistance of Kelsy Carthew as his daughter Angélique, brings real nobility to the breakthrough moment when he realizes she indeed loves him.
The moment almost parallels, in its poignancy, the ridiculous extravagance of the burlesque of this production: Rafael Goldstein as a chicken-crossed De Aria, Carolyn Ratteray as the wicked Béline, Angela Balogh Calin's superb sets and costumes.
Molière collaborated with Marc-Antoine Charpentier on this play, originally a three-act comedy-ballet. I'd like to see a reconstruction of the original, with period instruments and choreography, but I understand the restrictions of the contemporary entertainment industry.
New music was substituted for the final romp, as well as the opera-spoof pastourelle improvised ny Angélique and her swain Cléante (Josh Odsess-Rubin, very sympathetic snd capable). Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directed. I liked every aspect of her work while I was watching, and the more I think about it afterward the more impressed I am with it.