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PCPA Theaterfest Imagines an ‘Invalid’ in Colonial America

The production is a world-premiere adaptation of Patricia Troxel's farce, The Imaginary Invalid.

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Silas Argan (William Youmans), Lydia (Gwendolen Morton) and and Prudence (Catalina Maynard) in PCPA Theaterfest’s The Imaginary Invalid.

Now finishing its run at the Marian Theater in Santa Maria and getting ready to open at the Festival Theater in Solvang, Moliere’s comedy The Imaginary Invalid has been transposed from the France of Louis XIV to the American colonies about 100 years later.

The PCPA Theaterfest production represents the world premiere of an adaptation and translation of the farce by Patricia Troxel. Directed by Roger De Laurier, the show features sumptuous sets and costumes and a cast of Equity professionals.

The characters’ names have all been changed to reflect the new time and place of the action, so, in the following listing, the character’s original name is after a slash. The Imaginary Invalid stars William Youmans (Silas Argan/Argan), Gwendolen Morton (Lydia/Beline), Tobias Shaw (Nathaniel/Cleante), Erika Olson (Lucy/Louison), Vanessa Ballam (Abigail/Angelique), Catalina Maynard (Prudence/Toinette) and David Meyers (Benjamin/Beralde).

The play chronicles a few days worth of pivotal events in the lives of a rich man named Argan, his family, attendants and servants. Argan, who is actually quite healthy, imagines himself to be weak and permanently incapacitated. Naturally, he favors medicos who confirm his imagined invalidity, so he has a number of quacks feeding off him. A doctor who can’t find anything wrong with him is, by definition, incompetent.

To complicate his situation, Argan is very tight with his money. He depends on the bogus physicians who supply him with maladies to believe himself stricken with, but he also thinks — correctly, in this case — that they are robbing him. Argan’s plan is to marry his older daughter off to a doctor’s son, so he can have a physician in the family and on call, free of charge.

Human nature remains a constant, of course, so most of Moliere’s play will make the transition to Ben Franklin’s America with no reduction in potency. There have always been self-absorbed hypochondriacs, there have always been greedy stepmothers, there have always been unscrupulous doctors, there have always been headstrong but loyal children, there have always been cheeky but dependable employees.

All of these elements would play perfectly well in colonial America. They would play perfectly well in 2nd-century Rome, 16th-century Kyoto or pre-historic Anatolia. That is not to say that nothing will be lost. The Parisian bourgeoisie of the mid-17th-century produced unique and pungent flavors with respect to human personalities, and Moliere was a close and accurate observer of their vanities, their foibles and their obsessions.

It is not likely that colonial Philadelphia produced quite the same flavors. Insofar as Moliere was aiming his barbs at specific, uniquely French types, those barbs will be blunted by the transition, or drop off altogether.

Fortunately, most people go to plays for entertainment, not to find out about the society that produced it. And most people will have a great time at The Imaginary Invalid.

The Imaginary Invalid plays through Saturday at the Marian Theater in Santa Maria. It opens at the Festival Theater in Solvang on Aug. 28 and plays through Sept. 7.

For tickets and showtimes, call the box office at 805.922.8313.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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