Directed by Guy Mignault, Théâtre français de Toronto comically concludes their 47th season with Molière’s final work, Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid). As a comédie-ballet written in three acts with music intermingled among the ensuing action, the production rings utterly French; this stems from stylistic composition, language and culture of entertainment.
With a thick narrative of comedic irony, immense plotting and family feudalism, Théâtre français gallantly emphasizes that a lack of knowledge in the language does not amount to a confused, bewildered evening at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Rather, a communal celebration of the arts through a distinctive cultural framework is brought to the forefront in an entertainment-based engagement for those willing to embrace an evening of absolute theatricality.
Written over 340 years ago, Molière’s play focuses on the bedridden patriarch, Argan (Nicolas Van Burek), a hypochondriac emphatically obsessed with apothecary remedies and enemas to maintain his self-professed deteriorating health. Although in perfect health, Argan continually comes into contestation with the household servant, Toinette (Djennie Laguerre) serving as the maternal figure to Argan’s daughter, Angélique (Krystel Descary), despite the flawed and conniving step-mother, Béline (Bianca Heuvelmans).
With a series of intertwined subplots, Mignault’s exceptional direction is highlighted as the characters work through comedic exaggeration to solve familial conflicts as they arise. Toinette and Angélique plot in favour of Argan to secure a successful marriage to Angélique’s love interest, Cléante (Christopher Webb), against her arranged marriage to Thomas Diafoirus (Sébastien Bertrand). Béline also works with Monsieur Bonnefoy (Sébastien Bertrand) to obtain her husband’s financial wealth in the event of a looming death. As the major subplots unfold, new interactions and events continually arise to work against and in favour of the lovers, and also the highly adored Toinette.
The epitome of this production is that it completely encompasses its historical significance; although men were widely engaged in the contemplation of a possible death, the scientific revolution was growing in momentum during the play’s original period. Through this, new theories and questions about the biology and scientific reasoning of the human body were brought to the forefront of scientific discourse. With this understanding in mind, although the blaming of doctors did play into the period of scientific discovery, the production’s message surfaces in regards to the superior questions faced within the period: where does the knowledge of truth lie? This overarching question, although unanswered, is engagingly prevalent and experimented with throughout the play.
Whereas the production provides entertainment, it also induces questioning. Although originally used as political satire during its initial premiere, a great deal of the underlying commentary continues to apply within today’s medically-induced society. Through a drastically different comparison, we are currently working to rebrand the stigma surrounding mental health due to ongoing medical breakthroughs and research within the psychological realm of human understanding. Additionally, homosexuality was only recently removed as a mental disorder in the early 1970s. Through the play’s ongoing interaction between what is masked and what is reality, Argan’s ensuing battle with hypochondria serves as a timeless representation and approach to understanding Molière’s last work as it resonates today. Bravo, Théâtre français, bravo.
Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid) runs to May 24th at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs. For English surtitles dates and to purchase your tickets, please visit www.theatrefrancais.com. Rush Tickets are available on Saturday evenings with Pay-What-You-Can performances on Wednesdays.