“The Imaginary Invalid“: a timeless comedy that remains relevant

Dennis Taylor
College of the Siskiyous' production of Moliere's "Imaginary Invalid" features, left to right, Christina Pistorius as Toinette and Rundy Duphiney as Argon.

Review by Dennis Taylor

“The Imaginary Invalid” had its opening night Friday in the Kenneth Ford Theatre at COS in Weed. The play, written by Moliere, has had many performances over the years, the first of which was in Paris in 1673. Amazingly it has endured because its relevance seems to nearly transcend time itself. It’s about free health care, a topic that  doesn’t go away century in century out. But it’s not just the theme that keeps it timeless; it is also Moliere’s clever presentation.

The one-liners fly by so fast that concentration is a must, and the current production at COS makes that pretty easy – mostly.

The main character is Argon who, although wealthy, wants to marry off his daughter Angelique, played by Lorena Wood, to Thomas Diafoirus who is three days from getting his medical degree. From Argon’s point of view the marriage is about his free health care or as he words it – his future “medicinal alliance.”

Angelique has other ideas because she is in love with Cleante.

The basic plot is simple but the exchanges between characters are what drives the play and involves the audience in the characters.

Rundy Duphiney plays Argon with tongue-in-cheek humor delivering his lines easily. The play starts with Argon counting up his medical bills and making the appropriate deductions from Dr. Puegon who has been treating him for years.

Argon’s main complaint (and he has many) is that his bowels are usually in an uproar and the sound effects used by director Tom Murdock early in the play lets the audience know this is going to be a ribald comedy. Finally Argon  says with a shrug, “...with these prices who can stay sick.” Sound familiar?

At the height of his frustration his maid, Toinette, enters under a barrage of insults that you have to see and hear to believe. Played by Christina Pistorius, Toinette is impervious to his insults and brushes them aside with retorts of her own. “…Your wisdom is just a guess,” she tells him mockingly.

Pistorius is a marvel as Toinette. She delivers her lines with energy and a strong clear voice. Even when she is not delivering lines you can read her reactions so well that she might just as well be talking. Argon is the ultimate hypochondriac. At one point, when Toinette exits the stage, Argon tells the audience, “… “she had the nerve to tell me I’m not sick.”

The beginning of the third act was different and could have caught the audience a off-guard. A belly dance sequence is sexy and sensual and choreographed well. At first it seemed a little out of context, but it was a good transition into the final act.  

In one exchange between Angelique and her scheming step-mom Beline, performed by Murphy Duffle, Angelique says to her, “…there are women who define marriage as a commercial enterprise,” after Beline makes a play for Argon’s fortune. Beline counters, “I gave him the best year of my life.”  

Director Murdock adds a few touches of his own to Moliere’s work, as translated and adapted by James Magruder. He brings it to a 2010 audience. The set backdrop has giant gears meshing and the furniture employs the same gear motif. The set was designed by Neil Carpentier-Alting.

The costuming by designer Sharon Swingle is a knockout. The colors, design and texture of many of the costumes seemed more suited for a professional production rather than a college play, and it was a visual feast.

Svitlana Smaga added the music, and it is pretty much the sounds you would expect to hear in the 17th century (at least it was consistent with what you are use to hearing in movie sound tracks of the same period). At times she works in musical riffs that are more current and well executed.

One of the few problems on opening night was that the actors occasionally said their lines too quickly, and at times the music overpowered the dialogue.

The “Imaginary Invalid” is worth seeing but not everybody will be completely comfortable with the ribald humor. If you go be prepared to listen carefully. The dialogue is sharp and well-crafted, proving Moliere had a silver tongue that has weathered the test of time.  

The play continues Friday and Saturday April 16-17 at 8 p.m., followed by a final matinee on Sunday April 18 at 2 p.m.

The Cast

Argon: Rundy Duphiney

Toinette: Christina Pistorius

Angelique:?Lorena Wood

Louise: Elizabeth Errett

Beline:?Murphy Duffle

Fleurant:?Ryan Flores

Dr. Purgon:?Eric Johnson

Beralde: Deleon Grabowski

Cleante:?Jonathon Shines

Dr. Diafoirus:?Elliott Ehrlich

Thomas Diafoirus: Nick Gaustad

Bonnefoi: Eric Johnson

Shepherdess:?Lloyd Elliot

Satyrs:?Russell Mourey & Matt Christiansen

A Sheep: Jevon Johnson

Antonio: Rick Nixon

Isabella: Peggy Nixon

Mountain Gypsies: Brenda Woods, Ruth Peddinghaus, Barbara Eastman, Sandra Hood and Lynell Allen