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Theater Review: “Imaginary Invalid”

Paul L. Coffey appears as Béralde and Andy Grotelueschen as Argan.
Photo credit:
Jim Cox

It’s tough enough when the life you live is dependent on the opinion of someone else. It’s damn near revolting when those opinions are based on fantasy.

New York’s Fiasco Theater, last seen in these parts in their reduced version of Sondheim’s musical “Into The Woods,” is back at the Old Globe’s White Theatre through July 2 with the world premiere of their version of Molière’s classic “The Imaginary Invalid.” 

The title character is Argan (Andy Grotelueschen), the guy with the money, who lives in the delusion that he’s sick.

Argan spends most of his time thinking about how sick he is, seeing quack doctors and taking useless remedies. Meanwhile, he’s neglecting his family and the rest of the world.

He hasn’t noticed, for example, that his delusion has caused wife Béline (Jessie Austrian) to fake great concern, when actually she barely tolerates his lunacy.

He’s even gone to the extreme of making a match for daughter Angélique (Jane Pfitsch) without consulting her.

Ever mindful of his purse, he wants to save money by acquiring a doctor in the family, so he’s given his approval for the hapless and barely coherent Thomas Diafoirus (Paul L. Coffey) to marry his daughter.

Meanwhile, Angélique has fallen for the much more suitable Cléante (local actor Kevin Hafso-Koppman), attractive, young, a fine musician and crazy about her. Can this romance be saved?

The other major character is the spunky and clever maid Toinette (Emily Young), who gives as good as she gets and manages to get her way more often than any of the others.

“The Imaginary Invalid” is not only Molière’s last written play but his last performed. A tuberculosis sufferer, Molière collapsed onstage while playing Argan and died later that night. How’s that for irony?

One of the best things about Fiasco Theater is the versatility of the troupe. Not just accomplished actors, they are also musicians of no small talent. Here, they enliven the first act by singing the well-known 16th-century madrigal “Il Est Bel et Bon,” and the second by playing guitar, cello, mandolin, even trumpet and kazoo.

This “Invalid” (arguably Molière’s silliest play) sticks to the original plot (which calls for musical interludes and even ballet). The Fiasco touches are mostly in attitude, an occasional dip into slapstick, and speedy character switches.

The technical aspects of this play are simple (Takeshi Kata’s set, for example), but with surprising touches. Emily Rebholz’s costumes look just right. Russell H. Champa’s lighting and Melanie Chen sound make fine contributions as well.

Silly though the plot is, there’s something distressingly familiar about Argan, a man who stubbornly persists in believing what isn’t true. 

Nonetheless, this “Imaginary Invalid” is just plain fun to watch.

The details

Fiasco Theater’s “The Imaginary Invalid” runs through July 2, 2017 at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at  2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm