The Delightful Invalid

Do you recognize this fellow? He's Rene Auberjonois, he of buttoned-up lawyer-or-bureaucrat part fame (Though he was also Odo of Star Trek, and the voice of Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid). He's a marvel of slapstick and physical comedy in the Shakespeare Theater's production of The Imaginary Invalid. I wouldn't have guessed it from the work I've seen him in, but he turns out to be that rare thing, an actor with range. (Interesting family too, check out his bio.)

The production is a hoot. French theater of Molière's time had something of the flavor of a variety show, with all sorts of music, dance or comedy interludes to cover scene or costume changes. I've never seen anyone attempt to re-create that atmosphere, but director Keith Baxter does, to delightful effect. He makes particularly effective use of the commedia dell arte characters whom Molière loved, and the costumes are a feast for the eyes. I'm impressed with Baxter's work. My gripe against many contemporary directors is that they're too in love with stage business or this or that conceit making the plays "relevant," to the neglect of essentials such as tight performances, pacing, projection --and being sure the actors understand what they're saying. Even in a farce it is possible to overact, and Baxter, like the Shakespeare Theater's artistic director, Michael Kahn, understands this. Well done.

Mr. W & I were trying to figure out the significance of the date enscribed on the stage curtain: 17
Février 1673. It was the date Molière died, hours after performing in this play. We also noted that while the humor of the play comes from the title character's hypochondria, the "message" such as there is the right to marry whom one pleases --to marry for love. That's not wrong --the father here, Lear-like, has in a sense abdicated his fatherhood, and we confront once again the terrible plight of women at the mercy of corrupt men-- but it's not complete, either, as we are discovering lo, these many centuries later.