The Imaginary Invalid
At St. Edward's, Molière's satire is a tight two hours of irreverent, blue humor
Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., Sept. 24, 2010
The Imaginary Invalid
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress, 448-8484, www.stedwards.edu
Through Sept. 26
Running time: 1 hr., 50 min.
From 18th century poet Thomas Gray comes the line, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." I've always had a love/hate relationship with this adage: Even if it's better not to
know, the idea that I could know that I didn't know and be all right with that is ... maddening. And yet we as humans frequently choose our own blind spots. We deceive ourselves all the time so our worldviews and actions are just and correct. When the brother of the titular character of The Imaginary Invalid says, "We must remain calm, quiet, and ignorant," he really wants his brother to give up one form of ignorance for another.
Playwright Molière digs into this ignorance in Invalid with a healthy dose of satire, absurdity, and wit. The play tells the tale of Argan, a wealthy man who has constructed himself an unquestioned throne for leading his ludicrous household and who suffers from all sorts of delusional diseases – in the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production, he putters around in a motorized wheelchair, always wears an electric protective helmet, and fills himself with enough colonic cocktails that his bowel system rocks his massive toilet multiple times throughout the day.
Just what ails Argan, exactly, is unknown to all but his devious physician. But Argan chooses to release the need for medical knowledge in order to gain the ignorance of safety in his doctor's hands. His need to have the rule of his roost also leads Argan to gloss over some pertinent details in his own home: that his wife is a gold digger who's faking her Russian royalty; that the man his daughter is in love with is gallivanting about right under his nose disguised as a music teacher.
Molière loves to dig into his characters, who are painted with the broad strokes of absurd desire, blinded to obliviousness by what they think they crave. Director David Long has a talent of evoking sensation without dipping into spectacle. This production of Invalid is decidedly blue – Dr. Defacato swings an enema around like a dominatrix cracking her whip, and there's some invigorated tongue wrestling and removal of garments by young lovers – but it's no more lascivious than the world Molière intended. Argan's second-act pronouncement of "This is getting out of hand. I hate all of you." indicates how wickedly absurd the play gets.
As is the standard at the MMNT, several Equity actors lead the St. Edward's University student cast, and the veterans really shine in this production. Richard Robichaux plays the titular role as a wondrously depraved straight man, scornful of anyone challenging him and totally bamboozled by those deceiving him. Jill Blackwood is similarly delightful as the deceitful wife, Nastya, and it's always a pleasure to see Chronicle Arts Editor Robert Faires grace the stage.
This production of The Imaginary Invalid is a tight two hours of irreverent, blue humor. David Chambers' modern adaptation feels fresh, as does the modern Texas setting. Sometimes ignorance is a choice. Sometimes we hope it's a choice. One thing you won't want to be ignorant of, though, is the uproarious, entertaining production of The Imaginary Invalid at St. Ed's.