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This satire shines

For the play that killed Moliere, The Imaginary Invalid is pretty funny.

The French playwright and actor took the starring role in his last play in 1673, even though he was dying (probably of tuberculosis). He collapsed at the end of the fourth performance and died hours later.

The irony is that Argan, the hypochondriac of the title, is not sick at all. In Moliere's satire on the medical profession, the wealthy Argan is just a sucker for doctors who gleefully relieve him of his money, if not his symptoms.

In the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's production, Dean Anthony plays Argan as a blustery curmudgeon who is not nearly as in charge as he thinks he is. True, he does devastate his devoted daughter Angelique by arranging a marriage for her. He has fixed her up with the son of one of his doctors, a young man set to become a doctor himself.

Argan, who is stingy as well as self-absorbed, expects the union to provide him with free medical care. But Angelique has just fallen madly in love with another man, the gallant Cleante. To complicate matters, her stepmother, Beline, is plotting to have Angelique sent off to a convent so Beline can inherit Argan's dough.

To the rescue of young love come Argan's tart-tongued servant, Toinette, and his coolly rational brother Beralde, who cook up a scheme not only to unite the lovers but foil Beline and free Argan of his addiction to the hair-raising medical treatments he depends on.

The conservatory's student actors play out this farce with brio. Katherine Tanner is a standout as Toinette, the fearlessly sassy maid who clearly runs the household. Luciann Lajoie slinks and shrieks as the wicked stepmother, and Bryan Whitcomb is debonair as Beralde.

Merideth Maddox and Francisco Lozano make a sweetly resourceful pair of young lovers, and Brian Graves is a hoot as the obnoxiously dopey would-be fiance. Lauren Orkus is a fetching hoyden as Argan's younger daughter, Louison, and Heather Corwin stays busy playing all of Argan's pompous doctors, distinguishing one from the other with comical hats.

Director Margaret Eginton has a background in dance and choreography that serves this play well. The broadly drawn characters get a boost from all the funny walks and physical business. Argan, for example, keeps forgetting he's supposed to be a sick man and jumps up from his chair to chase people around the room with his cane.

Richard Cannon's set, with its harlequin-pattern floor and oversized chairs, looks charmingly like a puppet theater and gives the actors plenty of room for the knockabout scenes. Some of the stage business, though, such as the recorded whacks when doors are slammed, is distracting. June Elisabeth's costume design is lovely, all rich fabrics and clear, bright colors.

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