PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill has commissioned a world-premiere adaptation of Imaginary Invalid, the final play written by Molière. The story follows Argan, a hopeless hypochondriac, as he surrounds himself with people who will cater to his ridiculous medical delusions of chronic illness. Argan is also facing a second wife who's after his money and a daughter named Angel who wants to marry for love, and not for his personal convenience.
I always find the productions at PlayMakers Repertory Company to be of extremely high quality. Indeed, the set design was the hallmark of this production. The use of multiple surfaces and both vertical and horizontal space is very intriguing. I have trouble understanding how a director could possibly manage to block scenes on such a set, but the use of space is incredible. The sheer number of details in the set is fantastic in and of itself – the number of pill bottles boggles the mind. The costumes were well designed and expertly made. The costumes are out-there (on purpose), but some are a little much for my taste. The actors were top-notch. I was particularly drawn to the performance of Josh Tobin as Angel's suitor Irving-Luigi. Despite wearing a pink wig and a great deal of makeup, his character shone through above it all. Overall, however, there was something missing from this production. Instead of the witty satire they're going for, at times it seemed a little bit like a Saturday Night Live piece. By trying so hard to prove a point with a brand new piece, I think there's a feeling of authenticity which isn't quite there. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is – the character names (with distinct references to modern companies and products), the crude humor (which, to be fair, was partly Molière's fault), or the overt references to the modern medical establishment. Nonetheless, there's a piece that just doesn't fit.
It is my humble opinion that classics don't need to be adapted for the very reason that they are classic. The audience will make the connections to contemporary society on their own – those connections don't need to be made for the audience. I would never suggest that old plays don't need to be read in new ways, or that a new point of view isn't worthwhile, because those things statements simply aren't true. However, it is inevitable that when a work is adapted, something is sacrificed, and the gains which are made aren't enough to overcome it.
There were, of course, some elements of the adaptation which I found laudable and must give their due credit. I thought that when Steven Epp played Molière himself, it worked. I also very much enjoyed that Sickness and Death (costumed perfectly) emerged at the top of the show as joke-telling demons. I found that their presence added tremendously for the production, and I wanted to see more of them.
Imaginary Invalid is playing through November 11th. For tickets and more information, visit www.playmakersrep.org.
Photo by Jon Gardiner