Seattle University’s production of “The Imaginary Invalid” has finally hit the stage at the Lee Center for the Arts. The show, directed by Ki Gottberg, is one of the most unique theater experiences I’ve ever had, to say the least.
The play is an intricately thunderous farce, made up of stock or archetypal characters, each with a singular objective—think the male heartthrob lead, the gold digging second wife, the sex-crazed adolescent, the omniscient doctor.
Although the play was written well over 400 years ago by French playwright Moliere, “The Imaginary Invalid” is relatable even today.
From left: Juniors Matt Weingarten, Ishwan Tiwathia and Marshall Lewis rehearse “The Imaginary Invalid.”
The story centers around a crotchety old man named Monsieur Argan (Ishwan Tiwathia), who is obsessed with finding cures for the numerous maladies he fancies himself to have. The narrative concerns the frivolous pursuit of health care and Seattle U’s production draws a comparison to the current battle over Obamacare.
The end result of the play was one of the most constant streams of laughter I’ve ever experienced, for a nearly three-hour running time—I probably should have had my ribs checked afterward.
“The hook up to contemporary times for me is, how do you draw the line, what do we all deserve in terms of care,” Gottberg said. “We all deserve some level of care, but Monsieur Argan is obsessed with wasting his money on any treatment he can get as a hypochondriac.”
Amazingly enough, the entire play is set in the main character’s bedroom. Despite the lack of location changes, the set itself never became stale. The play was fast-paced and kept several characters moving through in a variety of situations, so every scene felt new and unique as we continued to view Argan’s bedroom.
The set consisted of a long horseshoe-shaped bench, above which was Argan’s plush bed. Behind his bed was a grand door, which led to the rest of the house, and was squeezed on either side by a reddish-brown wall with all sorts of nooks and crannies holding Argan’s various medicines in colorful vials.
The updated language, costumes and lovely set all felt like they were from different periods, but naturally fit together, giving the play a wonderful timelessness.
The performances were particularly enthralling. To make stock characters so enjoyable throughout a performance actually presents an incredible challenge to the actors.
“Everything I do, I have to concentrate on the singular objective; it takes every ounce of you to maintain that throughout a performance,” said Marshall Lewis, who plays the romantic male lead, Cléante.
In the play, Cléante attempts to win the hand of Argan’s daughter Angélique (Lucy Walker) and tries to sing himself out of the most difficult situations. The effect of having so many different focused characters on stage was wondrous to watch.
For the entire play, the language was quick and lines built off each other to carry the play’s comedy. The back-and-forth quips between Argan and his maid Toinette (Meme Garcia), who turned out to be quite the mastermind herself, were hysterical. Yet, despite the back-and-forth insults about not completing duties and faking illness, it was obvious there was deep-seated care between the two characters.
All of the performances were spot-on to the archetypes they were trying to represent. Junior Kylie Spillman is brilliant as the femme fatale and second wife to Argan, who tries to trick him into leaving his entire endowment to her rather than his daughters. She is aided by the slick and intelligent family lawyer (Jacob Swanson), who pretends to have Argan’s best interests at hand. The two were, naturally, having an affair.
It was strikingly obvious what each character was trying to do onstage—but that’s the point. Waiting for each character’s own goals to ramrod in the middle was the root of the comedy.
As one learns from seeing the performance, the play is about being human: losing oneself in one’s own endeavors, at times closing our minds off to the bigger picture. Being an idiot every once in a while is just part of being human.
“We can all be idiots, and the play draws on that universality,” Gottberg said. “Moliere was a great humanist; he loved humans and he loved making fun of them.”
It’s incredibly healthy to laugh at oneself and that’s what Moliere begs us to do. The characters are fools, but they’re all the more lovable for it.
“The Imaginary Invalid” will be playing at Lee Center until March 2; tickets are $6 for students, $8 for faculty and staff, and $10 for the general public.