Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July 2007
ARGAN: Your Molière is a fine impertinent fellow with his comedies! I think it mightily pleasant of him to go and take off honest people like the doctors.
BÉRALDE: It is not the doctors themselves that he takes off, but the absurdity of medicine.
- Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Molière (1622-1673)
This is a great summer for mangled Molière, and I mean mangled in the best sense. Should the master of French farce rise from the grave he might be horrified at what has been done to his scripts by the Bakerloo Theatre Project and Shakespeare & Company, but he would definitely applaud the boisterous spirit in which they have been butchered. Both of these productions offer Molière for the MTV generation, fast and loose and very, very funny, with no commercial interruptions. While the Shakespeare & Company production of Scapin is free, it is presented in two parts you have to make two trips to Lenox to see the whole thing. Bakerloo rips through The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade Imaginaire, 1673) in 90-minutes for a modest $15 ticket price and I can’t think of a better family outing. There are enough poop jokes and silly sight-gags to keep even a child as young as five or six entertained.
This production is Matt Mosher and Bakerloo’s own adaptation of Charles Heron Wall’s translation of Molière’s final work (he collapsed during his fourth performance in the title role and died shortly thereafter). It is directed with gusto by Ryan Howe, but I can’t help but think that he received lots of input and inspiration from his exuberant cast. The same youthful vivacity that make Bakerloo’s current production of Macbeth so stunningly visceral bring a freshness and abundant energy to this classic farce. Riotous youth indeed!
Anchoring this swirling whirlpool of silliness is Joe Mihalchick’s Argan and Kate Hess’ Toinette. There is no mistaking Mihalchick for anything but the robustly healthy and handsome young man that he is, and no attempt has been made to alter his appearance, which renders Argan’s endless cried of illness all the more ridiculous. Mihalchick gives us a decidedly hyper hypochondriac, springing wildly from his bed at the slightest provocation to scold his servants, chastise his daughters, or slash the costs on his latest doctor’s bill.
In a perky black bustier and pink and black striped tights Hess is all sass and wiggle as the world’s most subordinate servant. This is really Toinette’s play, as she aids and abets the schemes that allow Angélique (Danielle Grabianowski) to marry the man of her Cléante (John Steffenauer) and opens Argan’s eyes to his foolishness.
I failed to mention Grabianowski’s very funny turn in Macbeth (yes, there is comedy in the Scottish play) as the drunken porter in the “knock-knock” scene. Here, in the fuzziest hot pink legwarmers ever seen, she leaps and lollops wide-eyed and naïve through Howe’s madhouse. She is both very funny and very touching as the fiercely loyal Angélique.
Steffenauer continues to strike me as one of the weaker performers in the Bakerloo stable, but he earns brownie points for tackling every role earnestly, making an obvious good-faith effort to bring all the skills he possesses to the task at hand. He and Howe have managed to put a new, more interesting spin on the stock male juvenile, in an hobo-clown costume that accentuates Steffenauer’s tall, thin frame and classic good looks. He sang very sweetly in his a cappella ex tempore operetta with Grabianowski – not an easy thing to do (Adam Mathias is credited as the “Operetta” Music Consultant, quotation marks courtesy of Bakerloo.)
“...most men die of their remedies, and not of their diseases.” – Molière
In 17th century France medicine was not revered profession it is now, but it was quite lucrative, especially with patients like Argan willing to pay through nose (or perhaps a different orifice) for useless enemas and purgatives. Mosher and the cast get in a few quick digs at the current state of medicine and health care in America, but for the most part Moliere’s 400-year-old jabs are still applicable enough.
Here Mosher and the cast have changed the names of Argan’s physician to Vomitter (from Purgon) and the doctor to whose son Argan promises Angélique’s hand to Diarrhée (from Diafoirus), which Argan pronounces Voh-mee-tay and Dee-ah-ray, but Toinette is not fooled. Christopher Thomas Gilkey gives an over-the-top performance as the furious Vomitter, clad all in devilish black and scarlet satin (hell hath no fury like a physician scorned?), filling the stage nearly ankle deep with the papers that he wildly flings from the file on Argan’s maladies. He is almost matched by Joseph McGranaghan pulling double-duty as the outRAYgeously French pharmacist Mr. Fleurant, sputtering away in faux-French while squirting the contents of his enema hither and yon.
McGranaghan pulls double-duty, appearing also as the uber-nerd Thomas Diarrhée, who Argan wants to marry to Angélique because he is about to become a doctor and having a physician in the family ensures him a lifetime of free medical care. McGranaghan is an impossibly thin man, able to rest his buttocks easily in the tiny toddler’s chair Toinette provides him. With his greasy hair dangling limply and coke-bottle glasses he is easily the most unappealing fiancé ever foisted off on womankind.
In a reluctant gender-bending role Gwyn Hervochon plays his old charlatan of a father, Dr. Diarrhée. She look surprisingly good in a moustache, and even better in her sparkly duds as Ms. De Bonnefoi, an “accountant” in cahoots with Argan’s second wife Beline (Sarah Murphy.) All of Justin Honard’s costumes are exceptional here, as they are for Macbeth, but Musphy’s powder-blue snow-bunny get-up was my out-and-out favorite in this show. Teetering on stiletto-heeled white patent leather boots, balancing her blue cat-eyed glasses on her nose and an out-sized martini glass in her hand Murphy was just the money-grubbing stepmother from hell.
Stepping out as the voice of reason was Marsha Harman, looking snappy in a pin-stripe suit with a cocky hat and equally cock-eyed hairdo, as Argan’s sister (his brother in the original), Béralde. Her “Latin” number during the burlesque ceremony in which Argan is draped in academic roles and a stethoscope and pronounced a doctor was very funny and very nicely sung, as was her earlier outing on one of the musical interludes scattered throughout the show.
The Imaginary Invalid is performed in the same open floor space in Academy Hall, with the audience seated three-quarters round, as Macbeth. In fact as you enter the stage is set exactly as it is for the Scottish Play, except that unique music, possibly performed by a chorus of barnyard fowl, is playing, and instead of the tormented Macbeth rising from the long sheet snaking across the floor, the lump in the middle is kicked and beaten and exposed as the pile of bedding for Argan’s sickbed. Suddenly curtains enclosing the performance space become a circus tent instead of a shroud and hilarity erupts where tragedy once reigned.
This “Cursed Season” (Macbeth opened on Friday the 13th) has been anything but from an audience standpoint. I know the company had some attendant disasters during rehearsals, but half the fun of getting a show up is the adventures you have along the way. From my view from the aisle this has been Bakerloo’s best season so far. In fact this pair of productions is so good, and shows the remarkable range and energy of this young company so well that I think they could take it on the road. It is a pity their annual stay in Troy is so brief. If you love the theatre and love a good laugh, hurry over to Academy Hall now before you miss your opportunity to see one of the best shows of this season.
The Bakerloo Theatre Project's production of The Imginary Invalid will be performed July 20-22, 26 & 28 at 8 p.m. and July 28 at 2 p.m. at Academy Hall at the corner of 15th Street and College Avenue on the RPI campus in Troy, NY. Admission is $15 or $25 for a season pass. The show runs 90-minutes without an intermission and is suitable for anyone who likes to laugh. To order by phone or to get a season pass please call 877-238 5586
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007