Monday, September 16, 2013 at 9:42 a.m.
Edwin Strout and Marc J. Paez.
Photo by Ron Ravensborg
Part farcical comedy, part screed against the medical profession, Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid offers intriguing challenges to a production willing to meet its material head on. The Rick-Shiomi-directed Theatre in the Round production plays both sides of the script's equation largely successfully.
The 17th-century work centers on Argan, the hypochondriac of the title. He is on a steady regime of drafs, potions, and enemas on the orders of the appropriately named Dr. Purgon.
Those around him think Argan is deluded, either tolerating his actions, ridiculing them, or using them to their own advantage. All of this comes to a head in the play, when Argan promises daughter Angelique to the son of a prominent doctor (and a doctor in training himself) so he can have access to cheap medical care into his dotage.
As noted, the show careens between the humor of Argan's situation and his stubborn delusions about the world and a philosophical rant against the efficacy of medicine. There are some modern echoes in what is being discussed, especially in the number of medicines available for conditions we didn't know existed until the television commercials started up. Then again, I'll keep my penicillin, thank you very much.
Shiomi directs all of this with a steady hand, and has solid actors in place to carry the weight of the more philosophical moments. It's all led by Edwin Strout as Argan. Like the script, the character needs to execute a balancing act. His cluelessness provides much of the comic action to the play, but there needs to exist something of a heart beneath the cluster of symptoms.
The main comic foil for him is Toinette, the household's maidservant who strives to keep Angelique free and push back the plots of second-wife Beline (Anna Olson). Katie Kaufmann gives a terrific performance here, and her comic timing pairs extremely well with Strout.
The cast is largely solid, with Steven Frankenfield (as the nerdish doctor in training) and Molly Pach Johnson (as second daughter Louison) getting the most out of their limited time.
The interstitial moments don't work as well. These little breaks further illustrate Moliere's central themes, but don't have enough life or clarity to do anything here but drag down the play's pace. The exception is the final one, where the playwright underscores (a few times really) his central themes about medicine as Argon offers the same mad cure for every disease presented to him. Maybe it was the writing, or maybe it was the novelty-sized, glow in the dark syringes, but this moment worked for me.
IF YOU GO:
The Imaginary Invalid
Through September 29
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.333.3010 or visit online.