Thursday, June 14, 2012

GUEST THEATRE REVIEW: "The Imaginary Invalid" at Talent to aMuse

“The Imaginary Invalid”: Moliere Done Decently By Talent to aMuse

By Kristen Fogle

Moliere was an actor and playwright who was very involved in his plays. Perhaps a bit too much. During a performance of “The Imaginary Invalid” (where he portrayed Argan, the main character), he suffered a hemorrhage mid performance, but simply resumed his role and carried on as normal. He died later that evening.

ARGAN (George Weinberg-Harter, L) and TOINETTE (Sandy Hotchkiss Gullans, R) in Talent to aMuse's "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere, showing June 9-30, 2012 at the Liberty Theatre in San Diego.  Photo: Michelle Waugh, Photo Baby Photography.
Perhaps a better way to remember Moliere, however, is as a social critic of the seventeenth century, satirizing the institutions of his day and poking fun at the Parisian bourgeoisie. Though criticized for being “too realistic,” this never stood in his way; he wrote thirty seven plays and many are widely known, including “Le Misanthrope” (“The Misanthrope”), “L’Ecole des femes” (“The School for Wives”), “Tartuffe ou L’Imposteur,” (“Tartuffe” or ”The Hypocrite”), “L’Avare” (“The Miser”), and “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” (“The Bourgeois Gentleman”). And of course, “The Imaginary Invalid.”

Talent to aMuse is behind the most recent, San Diego production of the piece. Says director O.P. Hadlock, the piece was chosen because: “I happen to have had experience with his work early in life and fell in love with his plays. ‘Invalid’ just happens to be my favorite and what I consider to be his most humorous.”

ARGAN (George Weinberg-Harter, R) and BELINE (Gail West, L) in Talent to aMuse's "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere.  Photo: Michelle Waugh, Photo Baby Photography.
The piece, (which many others consider to be his finest comedy), satires the medical profession. The farce depicts bafoonish doctors, unscrupulous lawyers, scheming wives, young lovers, manipulative maids, and miserly hypochondriacs. More specifically, the action centers around Argan, (the hypochondriac referred to previously) who wishes to marry off his daughter to a local doctor’s nephew who is also training in the medical arts. Why? For more access to medicines and—eww!—enemas of course! This is a pity for the young Angelique who has her eye on the dashing Cleante. Meanwhile, Argan’s wife Beline (step-mother to Angelique) is attempting to rob him through the help of a “respectable” notary. Cutting it very short, everyone gets what they deserve in the end, which means Angelique will be wed to Cleante, Beline is found out, and Argan is made a doctor. (Apparently all is well in the world when an aging hypochondriac is allowed to write his own prescriptions.)

Playing Argan is George Weinberg-Harter, Associate Artist/Playwright in Residence for Talent to aMuse. Weinberg-Harter is just the right amount of fussy kook infused with just a dash of likeable old man—his playfulness plays out well with saucy maid Toinette, played capably by Co-founder/Co-director Sandy Hotchkiss Gullans. Gail West rounds out the Talent to aMuse staff (like Hotchkiss Gullans she serves as Co-founder and Co-director) and plays the vindictive wife, Beline. Other notable cast members include Carla Navarro who, with help from precise blocking timed to take into account every gag Moliere’s script will allow, makes the most of the love struck Angelique. Her beau Cleante (Josh Pinkowski) is not only easy on the eyes but talented (in the acting and vocal department) as well. 

CLEANTE (Josh Pinkowski, L) and ANGELIQUE (Carla Navarro, R) in Talent to aMuse's "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere.  Photo: Michelle Waugh, Photo Baby Photography.
If one is interested in this classic farce, Talent to aMuse does not disappoint and even makes attempts at updating the piece for a more modern audience. Says Hadlock: “Some of the things that I did to update the show are fairly obvious like Goucho glasses and having Toinette act like Groucho Marx and using an enema bag instead of a syringe. Some are less obvious like the blatant sexual innuendo between Bonnefoi and Argan's wife or the way that Angelique deals with Cleante's sword when she runs to him. I also incorporated modern slapstick comedic moments into it like when Argan is hit on the head and Toinette and Berald say, "Blockhead!" One thing that was unseen was the interludes. Moliere had singing and dance before the show, before each act and at the end of the show. The choral part in our last scene with all of the doctors chanting was our way of incorporating the ending one.”

These subtleties make “Invalid” a bit easier to swallow, and besides the slightly cartoonish drawing on the upstage wall meant to be a Greek fresco that I didn’t particularly care for (but understand in keeping with the parody that is “Invalid”), there is a lot to enjoy. Paradise Village, which is essentially an amenity rich, ultra nice old folks abode, is a great location for the play, as their 200+ seat theater is not only beautiful but has impressive sound and lighting features. 

THOMAS and DR DIAFOIRUS (Chris Fonseca, L and Greg McAfee, C) visit ARGAN (George Weinberg-Harter, R) in Talent to aMuse's "The Imaginary Invalid" by Moliere.  Photo: Michelle Waugh, Photo Baby Photography.
Not only can you support Talent to aMuse’s efforts by seeing the show, but you can donate to their Kickstarter account, which all goes to actor stipends. If you like what you see, or want to pledge “blind,” go to and type in Moliere. “The Imaginary Invalid” will be there; simply click and contribute funds.

The Imaginary Invalid
Liberty Theatre
Paradise Village Plaza
2700 East 4th Street
National City, CA


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  2. Wonderful review Kristen! And thanks for the Kickstarter shoutout... :)