Review by Byrne Harrison
Think you know The Imaginary Invalid? Aliza Shane's version is not like any other you will have seen. Adapted from Molière's original, The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only takes aim not only at the doctors, but at modern society and our nearly universal belief that a happy life is just a pill away.
Unlike the original play, the doctors in Aliza Shane's version aren't complete quacks; they're just greedy. In a world where insurance foots the bill, they will prescribe anything and everything that Arganne (Stasi Schaeffer) wants - and with a half dozen doctors, that's a lot of pills. In order to save a little money on her co-pays, the miserly Arganne decides to marry off her daughter Angélique (Ayelet Blumberg) to her doctor's simpleton son (Anthony Aguilar). What better thing for a hypochondriac than to have a doctor in the family? Sadly, Angélique is in love with Cléante (Chris Cronwell), a young man without means. Only with the help of the wily servant Toinette (Michelle Foytek) and her wise aunt, Béralde (Kymberly Tuttle), can she hope to avoid her fate.
Aliza Shane takes aim at the major drug companies by making sure to mention by name the various medications that Arganne is taking. The actors, those not playing the six main roles, dramatically list the various side-effect of each medication that Arganne ingests. An intriguing concept, but one that quickly grows old since so many of the side-effects are the same. In addition, Shane give this Invalid a decidedly unhappy ending. Given the breakneck speed with which modern medicine is churning out remedies for everything (Restless Leg Syndrome? Really?), Shane's vision of a country that turns to pills at the slightest misfortune seems eerily on target.
As a director, Shane uses Chanda Calentine's choreography to accentuate the dreamy feel of the piece. Stripped to a barebones set (also designed by Shane), the chorus of actors becomes scenery, never obtrusively, but always in a "Wow, that's cool" way. Shane has a good eye for stage pictures, and her production always features something interesting to watch.
Acting in the production is good, particularly Michelle Foytek as the sly maid Toinette. Ably showing off her physical comedy skills and mastery of clever retorts, Foytek's Toinette delights as she runs, schemes, and avoids the withering disdain of Arganne. Also amusing is Kevin Mitchell as Arganne's mincing gold-digger of a husband. Adding a note of quiet calm, Kymberly Tuttle plays the straight woman to all the insanity around her as Béralde, and provides a nice counterpoint to Schaeffer's cranky and distressed Arganne. Schaeffer hits all the right notes as the hypochondriac, and truly shines in her scenes with Foytek. As the young lovers, Blumberg and Cornwell lack chemistry, and make up for it by playing up the sexual innuendo. Cornwell, in particular, doesn't seem to know what to do with his character - Shane's version of Cléante is considerably different from Molière's original dashing young lover - and as a result, never seems to be fully incorporated into the play. This is a minor problem, given that most of the play focuses on the grownups.
Clever and timely, Aliza Shane's The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only is a worthy adaptation of the original.
The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only
Written and Directed by Aliza Shane
Based on Le Malade Imaginaire by Molière
Choreographer: Chanda Calentine
Assistant Director: Kenzie West
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Fran Acuna
Lighting Designer: David Monroy
Costume and Set Design: Aliza Shane
Postcard and Logo Design by Duncan Pflaster
Produced by Aliza Shane, Darrell Fontenot, Dr. & Mrs. Alan and Fran Hirschman
Featuring: Anthony Aguilar (Doctor Five/Thomas Diafoirus), Melanie Bell (Doctor One/Dr. Purgon), Ayelet Blumberg (Angélique), Chris Cornwell (Cléante), Michelle Foytek (Toinette), Kevin Mitchell (Belin), Stasi Schaeffer (Arganne), Harlan Short (Doctor Two/Dr. Diafoirus), Emily Tuckman (Doctor Three/Dr. BonneFoi), Kymberly Tuttle (Béralde), Ebru Yönak (Doctor Four/Dr. Fleurant)
Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
Closed June 27th.