NEW! Carte Blanche’s fairly healthy Moliere
In its original version, Moliere’s comedy had a large cast, music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, dances, the obligatory introduction praising Louis XIV, and a prologue to set the scene. Moliere played the lead role, the hypochondriac Argan, in the play’s first production in 1673. Ironically, the playwright died after falling into a fit of coughing blood during the fourth performance.
Carte Blanche begins with Argan (Charlie Bauer) reviewing his medical bills. They’re mostly for enemas. He calls for his maid, the feisty and wise Toinette (Amber Smith). A verbal tug of war ensues. She sees through the quackery but Argan is convinced of his illnesses and of his doctors’ ability to cure them. Enter his daughter, Angelique, played by Bethany Peters. She’s met a wonderful man, Cleonte (Kyle Queenan) and is all-aflutter. She anticipates a marriage proposal. But Argan has his own wedding plans for Angelique – he’s set up her marriage to a medical student, Thomas Lillicrap (Clayton Hamburg, in one of three roles), son of Dr. Lillicrap (Dylan Zalewski). Argan is angling for free medical care at his daughter’s expense. Meanwhile, Argan’s greedy new wife, Beline (Lindsey Gagliano) wants Angelique confined to a nunnery. She plans to inherit his wealth and run off with the estate lawyer. The ingredients of tragedy cook up in to comedy and a happy ending, of course.
The Imaginary Invalid mostly satirizes the medical profession. Beyond medical quackery, Moliere targets such human foibles like greed and gullibility. The play’s mockery of the rather unscientific state of medicine in mid-17th century France certainly provides ammunition for more contemporary shots at health insurance, our American fixation with pharmaceuticals or our health care system in general. One might expect the purpose of producing the play would be to take timely this moment in political discourse.
Like most contemporary stagings, Carte Blanche’s strips away the extras. A minimally appointed stage and period costumes remain. That leaves the ensemble exposed to entertain on its own merits, and even more exposed as the first Cart Blanche effort performed in the round.
The competent carries through the three acts with pace and perseverance. Hamburg and Smith stand out. Hamburg, with a Jerry Lewis-like, incompetent but horny med student, Thomas Lillicrap and his Groucho-like Mr. Goodfellow (the wife’s lawyer), gets a lot of laughs. Smith, on stage for the practically the entire show, manipulates the proceedings as the smart maid and matchmaker. She delivers a classic commedia dell’arte part with heart and momentum. Bauer, Zalewski and Gagliano with support by Queenan and Laura Kolteman as Angelique’s sister, Louison, all do justice to respective roles.
The Imaginary Invalid runs through Feb. 20 at Carte Blanche, 1024 S. 5th St. Tickets are $20 at the Carte Blanche website, or call 414 305-9102.