The Imaginary Invalid
In most countries, including our own, when a political or religious figure becomes popular by attacking the church, the state, the legal profession and/or the medical profession, one can usually bet that he or she will end up dead or incarcerated before too long. The reasons are simple—these institutions will tolerate no one that disrupts their continued control over the apparatus that guarantees their power and financial hegemony.
In the arts, the situation is much the same. Books are banned or refused publication and authors are often jailed or murdered for their views. However, there are a few playwrights and satirists who, by the force of their wit and luck, have gotten away with social criticism and lived to die a natural death. Among those so fortunate, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin de Molière stands preeminent.
Molière was relentless in his scathing attacks on the pretensions of the French institutions of his day, but so charming and sophisticated were his contrivances that he remained in the favor Louis XIV for most of his career. One of Molière's favorite targets was the medical profession. He wrote at least four satires dealing with the hocus-pocus that was passed off as medical practice at that time.
Molière's last work on this topic was The Imaginary Invalid. Ironically, Molière died performing the title role. A new adaptation and translation of this masterpiece by Joan Holden, former artistic director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, is now being staged by the University of Denver Department of Theatre.
Given that Holden is one of the few American playwrights that could truly be described as revolutionary, she is a perfect match for Molière's material. To her faithful, though not literal translation, she has added a Prologue and backstage scenes that capture the off-stage drama of Molière's last hours as he valiantly attempts to perform the lead role until finally consumed in the last act. Additionally, Holden's adaptation includes Molière's comedy-ballet written especially for the play to curry favor with the King, who was fond of such extravagances.
Directed by Chip Walton, the DU students acquit themselves well in this commedia dell'arte presentation. Of particular note are: Derek Nason who, through creative use of voice and gesture behind his extraordinary stock mask, shapes a marvelously eccentric Molière playing Argan; and Maggie Mowbray as Catherine playing Toinette, his maid, who is a crackup as she manipulates her master and everyone else in an attempt to save Argan's daughter from an arranged marriage to the ugly duckling son of Argan's umpteenth incompetent physician.
This charming, inventive, and historically revealing production of Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, has its remaining performances May 24th through 28th. Call 303-871-2108 for tickets and information.