Classic plays are extremely hard to stage, mostly because they have already been performed a number of times to the point where they seem to have nothing new for directors to explore. However, every new staging of any Moliere’s play reveals new depth in the author’s genius and provides the director with enough room for imagination.
Though Stephens’ staging of The imaginary invalid had some problems in terms of lighting and a slightly careless work with the sound, with the help of an amazing cast of actors and the amazing choice of setting and lighting, Stephens managed to reinvent the traditional vision of the famous play.
It seems that there is hardly any reason for retelling the lay – the plot of The imaginary invalid seems to have become one of the stories that are included in the traditional baggage of knowledge for any educated person to have. Anyway, an old Argan, who is obsessed with his health and is constantly under the impression that he is ill, tells his physician, Dr. Purgon, that the treatment process needs to be enhanced.
Argan’s wife, Belina, considers her husband’s mania a whim, whereas their daughter Angelique keeps silent about her possible doubts. She is enamored in Cleante, which makes her feel rather distracted and makes it hard for her to leave the realm of dreams and return into the world of reality. Toinette, the maid, seems to be the only one to fight against Argan’s ridiculous fears of diseases. Meanwhile, Argan informs his daughter that he wants her to marry Thomas Diaforious.
Cleante is hired as a piano teacher by Argan; as a result, Cleante and Angelique confess their love for each other during the duet song. Once their secret is revealed, Argan is furious. Berthold, Argan’s brother, tries to change the former’s mind, both concerning the marriage and the unceasing treatment, yet with little success.
Bertald shows the doctor the door and leaves; Toinette appears, disguised as a doctor, and suggests Argan trick his family by pretending to be dead. Afterward, Argan’s wife shows her true colors as a greedy and uncaring person and sees the daughter and Cleante seized by grief. After revealing that he has fooled everyone, Argan blesses the marriage of his daughter and Cleante. Argan decides to become a doctor, and a troop of actors mocks a ceremony of his initiation into doctors (Moliere, 1673).
It was hardly possible to do anything special with the lead character, the “invalid” himself. However, the acting of the person that played the part of Argon was truly stellar. It was not that he chewed the scenery, though there were a plethora of moments where he stole the show from the rest of the actors. On the contrary, hammy acting could hardly do any good for the creation of a character, which has been done over and over again for a thousand times.
Instead, the actor was putting emphasis on building a slight caricature character that could factor in into the reality of the present-day world – and, much to the audience’s surprise, the actor’s attempt was crowned with complete success. The side characters, however, were truly splendid, with the magnificent talent of the actors clearly shining through.
For example, the actress portraying Beline, Argan’s wife, did an amazing job of depicting a suspicious and very sophisticated wife, a person representing the complete opposite of her obsessed and anxious husband. The actress’s no-nonsense voice and rather nonchalant manners matched the character perfectly: every single word that she utters contributes to building her up to the on-coming climax of the play.
Bonnefoy, the notary, might be considered a stock character by a range of critics, and they would definitely have a point – the idea of creating a character that would be both completely unreliable and yet entirely charming in his attempts at swindling his clients of their money is not new. Still, whenever Bonnefoy appeared on the stage, he clearly had every single set of eyes in the audience on him; perhaps, it was the undying charm of the stock character that made Bonnefoy so good in this interpretation.
Anyway, allowing a personal judgment into the analysis, one might argue that the very concept of a smart and attractive rascal is truly timeless – the character is very appealing, relatable and easy to sympathize with, which makes them a “win-win” element of any comedic play.
In fact, a range of playwrights used similar characters in their works, and the character in question has been the spotlight of a range of novels written in what nowadays is known as a Picaresque genre: “in the picaresque novel, the rogue is something more than a likable rascal: he is always the intelligent, clever, witty” (Keller, 1977, p. 148). Thud, the play clearly wins as this character is introduced into the story canvas. As far as the rest of the characters, each of them stands out in their own inimitable way.
The physician, Mr. Diaforious, is a perfect representation of a typical scholar and scientist, who is unable to see past the lens of his glasses. One could devote thousands of panegyrics to the actor, who portrayed the physician; however, it is enough to see him switching between the language of science and the language of “mere mortals” to realize that the actor does his best to create a very credible and likable character: “‘Optime.’ – ‘Er?’ – ‘Very good'” (Stephens, 2013, 49:08:11).
Thus, it can be argued that Stephens’ direction, which will be discussed below, and the talent of the actors provide the audience a chance to look at the well-known play through entirely new lenses and realize that it still has a few surprises and revelations for the viewers in store.
The directing is another major positive aspect of the play. Though each of the actors has their inimitable style and manner of acting, there were a couple of elements that created an impression of unity and integrity in their performance. For instance, the timing in the delivery of the actors’ lines was perfect. In addition, some of the characters, including the lead one, were played slightly differently from the canonic performances. The changes in the performance manner can also be viewed as a new manner of directing the actors.
Outlining the key problems of Stephens’s interpretation of the famous play, one should mention the lighting first. Perhaps, the director had a certain idea in mind when deciding to make a certain part of the setting lit rather dimly – the choice of lighting could be defining the gloomy atmosphere, which the “imaginary invalid” was creating with his obsession with treatment and medicine.
In some scenes, such as the moment at which the shadowy agent starts persuading the leading character and the audience about his clear intentions, may work, shifting the emphasis on what is important at the moment. For the most part, however, the dim light seems to serve little purpose.
Another issue concerns the sound. While this should be viewed as a minor nitpick rather than a legitimate disadvantage of the play, the sound is rather bad – it is very hard to make out what the characters say. The background noises, in their turn, are not quite natural in that they are very few. Once in a while, the audience would hear the sounds of someone’s footsteps, yet throughout the entire play, very few background noises are there to create the illusion of a household setting. On the one hand, such an approach can be seen as a means to drive the audience’s attention to what the characters say and do; on the other hand, the deliberate silence is very distracting.
Despite the fact that both the key concepts and the original message of The Imaginary Invalid had been worn out by the time that the interpretation under analysis came out, the director and the crew have managed to reinvent the entire play with the help of a range of unique stylistic choices and very impressive acting.
While it would be wrong to deny that the play had its problems, especially in terms of lighting and the sound, the result is obviously impressive, which the actors should be credited for. Each of the members of the cast has managed to capture the essence of their character and display character development in a rather subtle and unique manner.
Keller, G. D. (1977). The significance and impact of Gregorio Marañón. Tucson, AZ: Bilingual Press.
Moliere, P. (1673). The imaginary invalid. Web.
Stephens, C. (2013). The imaginary invalid. Vancouver, WA: Hudson’s Bay High School Theater and Video Production.