Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Imaginary Invalid

This afternoon Mike and I saw "The Imaginary Invalid" at Portland Center Stage (PCS) after a nice lunch at Noodles (love their tomato basil bisque) and a browse in Powell's.

"The Imaginary Invalid" is a broad farce written by the French playwright Moliere in 1673. It's the tale of an older man, Argan, who is a desperate hypochondriac. It's a biting satire on the snake oil practice of medicine at the time. Argan pays a fortune for pills and potions that he believes will relieve him of his horrific flatulence and bowel irritation. He's convinced he's on death's door, and this idea is encouraged by his unscrupulous doctor and even-more-unscrupulous young and conniving wife, Beline (who only wants to get her hands on his money).

Fortunately he has a very wise and spunky servant named Toinette and an adoring daughter, Angelique. Argan decides to marry off his daughter to a doctor (which she has never met), while in the meantime she has fallen in love with the dashing Cleante. Toinette plots to demonstrate to Argan Beline's scheming ways and convince him to let Angelique marry Cleante.

It was the last play Moliere wrote, and ironically, he collapsed during its fourth performance (during which he was portraying the lead role, Argan). I've never seen a Moliere play, so I had no standard of comparison. After reading the full plot summary (it was designed to be a three-act, even-more-complicated play), I was grateful that PCS chose to stage a shorter adaptation! I also read the critical reviews on Willamette Week and the Oregonian Web sites, in addition to Chris Coleman's fascinating discussion with the Oregonian theater critic. It's not the first time that I've attended a play and disagreed with the critics.

As always, the play was beautifully staged and costumed. We laughed out loud several times. I poked Mike a few times, too, as he is wont to be overly dramatic when he is feeling sick (Chris is prone to this tendency, too). When we were first married and he felt under the weather, he'd moan "It's been nice knowing you!"

I had no idea that doctors used to wear getups like this! My sister is a physician--wonder if she's ever thought of wearing such a costume?

I enjoyed this madcap comedy and especially appreciated the acting of Argon (world-class actor David Margulies) and Toinette (the always-wonderful Sharonlee McLean), and the overacting by John Wernke and Christine Calfas.

Even though medicine is much more reliable and ethical than it was in 1673, the play did bring to mind the modern comeback of "colonic irrigation," which people actually voluntarily request and are convinced will bring about improved health. These treatments can cost $55 to $95 a session, and typically a series of sessions are recommended. The main character, Argon, loves his enemas. Colonic irrigation is a prettier word, but an enema is still an enema, whatever you call it!

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