“Imaginary Invalid”: Sickeningly Entertaining

"Imaginary Invalid" actors practice in full costume for tech week. Photo courtesy of Karen Smith

By Maegan Clearwood

News Editor

This weekend, the Decker Theatre will be host to a hypochondriac father, singing shepherdess, scheming apothecary, devious physician, saucy maid, and four ballerinas. Simply put, Moliere’s 17th century French play, “The Imaginary Invalid,” is far from boring.

The production of “Invalid” was as challenging as it was entertaining; director and drama professor Jason Rubin needed a capable and multitalented cast, grandiose costumes, and hours of rehearsal time. The process started in the spring, when the drama department faculty chose the play for the fall.

Although Rubin always wanted to direct “Invalid,” there were also practical reasons for choosing the play. The drama department wanted to take advantage of WC adjunct professor Anthony Harvey’s unique musical skills. Harvey plays the theorbo, a 17th century lute-like instrument. His recording will underscore sophomore Anna Burress’ opening song.

“Invalid” also presented an ideal opportunity for senior drama major Suzanne Vaughn to complete her set design thesis project. The set is one of the most essential and memorable aspects of the play, and  Rubin said that Vaughn’s “wonderful and appropriate set which was worked diligently on” was exactly what he was looking for.

Although the play is over 400 years old, it is no wonder that audiences still enjoy it. “Invalid” tells the story of a hypochondriac, his attempts to marry off his daughter, and the scheming, greedy characters surrounding him.

“It should be many levels, a comedy of ideas, a comedy of manners, and a comedy that answers the questions of who we are and what we do on this planet,” Rubin said. “We investigate what hypochondria is. One of the questions that poses is ‘why are we afraid of dying?’ and we see this person go to extremes to fight that or deal with it.”

Junior actress Samantha Simpson, who plays Madame Purgon, is especially enthused about the production.

“I love the play. It’s absolutely hilarious,” she said. “It really is a drama department show as a whole. Everyone’s been working on some aspect of it.”

Rehearsals started on the first day of classes this semester. By then, most of the costumes were designed and made, and Rubin was ready for a challenging process.

“Rehearsal process has been too quick,” he said. “We started the first day of classes, and I knew it was a short period of rehearsals for a costumed, 17th century play, trying to teach the students style and how to achieve that particular style. I knew we were under pressure, but by and large, the students have been very good, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Although the rehearsal process has been stressful, the work is paying off.

“The rehearsal process has been long,” Simpson said. “It has been very thorough. Jason has given us a lot of time for us to work on each individual thing. It is really beneficial to the show; it’s given us a chance to really become our characters.”

Preparing students for such a stylized and complex show was difficult, but Rubin had his reasons. The most challenging part of rehearsals was “for the actors to learn their lines, because it’s very thick,” Rubin said. “I chose this translation to challenge the actors, to see if they could make sense of the text.”

Audiences can expect an energized, upbeat production come this Thursday.

“I hope to appeal to the audience’s sense of spectacle, because I’m appealing to mine,” Rubin said.

When asked what she wanted people to take away from the play, Choreographer Karen Smith mentioned a few things.  “I want people to gain a sense of history of the opulence and elegance of the French court during Louis’ time and how easily it is for educated people to be coersed into faulty ‘knowledge’ and persuaded by degrees and title.”

Come see “The Imaginary Invalid” which will hold showings tonight, Saturday night, and Sunday night starting at 8:00 p.m. at the Decker Theatre.

Tickets are available for $3 for student and faculty and $5 for the community at the door or reserve tickets by calling 410-778-7835 or e-mailing drama_tickets@washcoll.edu.

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