Medicine is not comedy! Unless, of course, your name is Moliere. In a hilarious adaptation by Constance Congdon of Moliere’s sly comedy, “Le Malade Imaginaire,” his words gain new life. Poking fun at the medical profession has never been such a hoot as it is when skilled lampoonist Moliere does his thing. Medicine – and most areas of science, for that matter - in the seventeenth century was in its relative infancy, and Moliere doesn’t let you forget it. Besides, some of the problems presented by medical care in Moliere’s day exist even today. Just ask anyone who can’t afford medical insurance or who has been brought to his knees by medical bills piling up after a catastrophic illness. And let’s not forget that people and all their foibles haven’t really changed over the past 400 or 500 years. Under Moliere’s keen and watchful eye and barbed wit, these dynamics achieve sublime contemporary relevance.
Well-to-do Mme. Argan (Ellen Geer) has a number of serious medical problems – or at least she believes that she does. Like any wealthy hypochondriac, she surrounds herself by medical remedies and her very own personal physician, Dr. Purgeon (Alan Blumenfeld). Her faithful servant Toinette (Melora Marshall) knows what’s going on – but has learned to keep her own counsel. Well, some of the time. Her frequently unguarded tongue will spark audience chuckles.
Mme. Argan is married to her second husband, Beline (Jonathan Blandino), a young gigolo who is waiting impatiently for her ailments to get the better of her. She has a lovely daughter, Angelique (Willow Geer), who just happens to be madly in love with Cleante (Max Lawrence), her unsuitable secret suiter. The fur begins to fly when Mme. Argan decides that Angelique will marry Dr. Purgeon’s nephew, Claude (Cameron Rose), who vaguely resembles – or perhaps not so vaguely - a rooster. After all, Claude has just completed his medical studies and can treat Mme. Argan free of charge as a member of the family.
THE IMAGINARY INVALID has humor which stretches from satire to farce – with all the stops in between. Tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre lines spearhead the humorous assault: “I am the yeast that makes you rise.” Just bear in mind that bread dough is the last thing on Mme. Argan’s mind. As is the “intercourse” between her daughter and lover Cleante as they meet on opposite sides of the estate gate. On the topic of true love, Toinette can’t help remarking that “…a show of love is just like the real thing, and I’ve known some good actors in my day.”
Musical interludes also dot the goings-on, with with three- and four-part opera-like passages containing lots of clever lyrics. Original music has been provided by talented Marshall McDaniel. Interspersed with Mme. Argan’s constant flatulence and frequent enemas, the play hits both high and low humor with equal regularity and hysterical results. Director Mary Jo DuPrey remarked that “…this new adaptation is hands down the funniest of any translation I’ve ever read.” Her direction makes the most of each witty line and funny situation. And she has a very talented cast to work with who understand how Moliere’s mind worked; they extricate every drop of fun available in this translation.
Vicki Conrad’s lush costumes are a pleasure to see. Theatricum Botanicum is always set on the side of a rustic hill and allows for minimal intervention with nature – yet the skilled production team has managed to add to the seventeenth century ambiance by little details in props, lighting, and sound. Overall, this is an excellent production of a Moliere classic. It will have the audience laughing from beginning to end – both at the ridiculous behavior of the principals and the brilliance of the lines. The audience should be aware that this broad presentation contains a great deal of physical humor and carries farce to a new level.
THE IMAGINARY INVALID runs through October 2, 2016, with performance at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on alternating Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $10 (children) to $38.50. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online at Theatricum Botanicum.