The Imaginary Invalid

The line between comedy and farce may sometimes seem like a fine one, but within this distinction lies the key to many a script. In Bas Bleu's current production of Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, we see first hand how comedy alone fails to sufficiently mine the hilarity busting to escape from the playwright's clever couplets.

Director Peter Anthony's majestic twelve-columned, faux marble grand hall presents an impressive picture spanning the challenging breadth of the company's stage, but its scale only adds to the disconnected sensation between the zany words and generally low-key actions of the players, much of which are performed too deep in the set.

With only an occasional characterization reaching a fever pitch, the plight of the theatre's ultimate hypochondriac never reaches the dizzying heights of which it's capable, leaving us aching for what might have been from such a richly-costumed effort.

Miles Malleson's translation is also problematic, drifting between classical and modern idioms, adding to the sense of stylistic uncertainty. While the script includes a prologue that eventually sets up the rare conceit of a play-within-a play-within-a-play, it also appends an elegiac epilogue—honoring the playwright, who died after playing the lead in the fourth performance—that further distracts from his farcical intensions.

Brian Hughes as Argan
Brian Hughes as Argan
Photo: Bas Bleu
Toss in the undue solemnity of the normally hilarious Latin-flavored degree ceremony and an Argan who takes himself too seriously to serve as the grand fool required of a good farce, and the piece falls back on the text alone for laughs. Here again, the space, the direction, and much of the acting conspire against the ridiculous, as punch lines spoken perpendicular to the audience get lost in the cavernous acoustics, or are run together unintelligibly with the next thought.

This said, the ensemble gleans enough comedic nuggets here and there to avoid a calamity and rides the master's clever story line to its satisfying conclusion.

Brian Hughes as Argan, Marlin May as Bonnefoy, and Heather Lawrence as Beline
Brian Hughes as Argan,
Marlin May as Bonnefoy,
and Heather Lawrence as Béline
Photo: Bas Bleu
With a laugh that would send a hyena screaming and a disdainful gaze that would drop an lion, Heather Lawrence clearly serves up the coquettish duplicity of Béline, Argan's wife, who is out for her husband's money before he fritters it away on incompetent doctors and ineffective potions.

Marlin May as Dr. Diafoirus and Matt Strauch as Thomas
Marlin May as Dr. Diafoirus
and Matt Strauch as Thomas
Photo: Bas Bleu
We empathize with Argan's daughter, Angélique, when her father attempts to save money on his massive medical bills by marrying her off to one of his physicians' sons, Diafoirus, who—infused with Matt Strauch's vapid and revolting affectations—comes off as a vacuous pill (pun intended).

Ailie Holland livens things up as Toinette, the maid who runs Argan's household, as she mocks the doctors, manipulates events with various alliances, and dons a disguise to further confuse her master.

Bruce Bergquist as Dr. Purgon, Ailie Holland as Toinette, and Brian Hughes as Argan
Bruce Bergquist as Dr. Purgon,
Ailie Holland as Toinette,
and Brian Hughes as Argan
Photo: Bas Bleu

Bruce Berquist's galvanizing appearance as the enraged doctor, Purgon, along with his crazed, enema-toting sidekick, Fleurant (Strauch), also provide needed punch.

The target of Molière's witty barbs and hyperbolic characters is obviously the 17th-century French medical profession, with its sanctimonious 2,500-year old assumptions about anatomy and curatives, including leaches and bleeding and concoctions of all sorts. Lest anyone think this dates the play, Anthony reminds us in his notes that Big Pharma still makes mega-bucks selling panaceas to a terrorized populace.

As a young writer, director, and actor learning his trade with a troupe that traveled southern France, Molière was heavily influenced by commedia dell'arte, with its stock caricatures reshuffled to endless farcical effect—precisely the prescription needed here.

Bas Bleu Theatre Company's The Imaginary Invalid runs through May 12th. 970-498-8949.

Bob Bows


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