Living in the country which frivolously spends more per capita on health care than any other nation on Earth, where corporate profitability outstrips quality of service or affordable efficiency as a social priority, it’s absurdly ironic to stage a play about a 17th century Frenchman who goes to extreme lengths to save money on medical bills. So it’s only fitting that Carte Blanche Studios’ production of Molière’s “The Imaginary Invalid” plays up the absurdity to its full tee.
The play is about a hypochondriac who arranges the marriage of his eldest daughter to the doofus son of a doctor in order to receive discounted medical treatments, kind of an Age of Reason precursor to today’s “Cadillac” health insurance plans. Understandably, his daughter resists the engagement as she has designs on another, decidedly less obnoxious young man. Throw into the mix an adulterous wife and a wisecracking servant, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for laugh-out-loud hijinks.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the TV sitcom “Three’s Company” extrapolated a formula for farce that led to several years of dominant ratings. And the three main characters of Carte Blanche’s “The Imaginary Invalid” borrow a healthy dose from this formula in forming a “Three’s Company” trifecta. Charlie Bauer’s Argan is an imprint of Jack Tripper, the cartoonish clown always up to some silly scheme, Amber Smith’s Toinette is Janet, the sarcastic pundit, and Bethany Peters’ Angélique is Chrissy, the sweet and innocent beauty. The show is at its best when these three take to the stage hammering droll situational comedy out of the ballpark.
While the humorous parts of the play are a blast, the scenes of social satire are left feeling entirely out of place. The sweeping condemnation against the medical profession seems woefully archaic given the widespread adoption by advanced societies of the idea that health care is a human right. And while it may be considered a national embarrassment that the United States still abides by a system where doctors profit from their patients, the business of medical malpractice litigation prevents the dubious procedures and outright quackery of Molière’s day.
The playful tone of Carte Blanche’s “The Imaginary Invalid” is aided immensely by the theatre-in-the-round configuration. With no fourth wall to break, the actors are completely free to engage the audience by mugging for the crowd, participating in slapstick perilously close to the seating, and even cracking self-deprecating jokes about the folly of the premise. The costumes and props contribute to the fun-filled spirit, sufficing to create a period look without taking themselves too seriously.
Carte Blanche’s “The Imaginary Invalid” sets out to have a good time and achieves this goal with aplomb. For those not too high-minded to be amused by a slew of enema jokes, “The Imaginary Invalid” is a pleasant antidote to winter blues.
Carte Blanche’s next show is “The Threepenny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht running April 1st through 17th. More information about Carte Blanche Studios is available on their website here.