BWW Review: THE HYPOCHONDRIAC at the Stratford Festival is a Clever Laugh-Riot
A hysterical production of THE HYPOCHONDRIAC opened on Thursday night at the Stratford Festival and the audience clearly enjoyed it thoroughly. Directed by Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, and starring Festival-favourite Stephen Ouimette, this production is a version by Richard Bean based on Chris Campbell's literal translation of Moliere's comedy-ballet LE MALADE IMAGINAIRE (The Imaginary Invalid). Its humour seamlessly moves from crass poop jokes to clever satire, and everything in between, allowing for a very enjoyable experiencing that will leave you doubled over and laughing so hard that you might end up with more gut pain than the titular character claims to have!
Ouimette plays Argon, a hypochondriac who is convinced that he is ill and is obsessed with having doctors who confirm this fact, and keep him alive through various tests and procedures-most frequently enemas and fecal exams. Argon's dream is to have his daughter, Angelique (played by Shannon Taylor) marry a doctor so that he can utilize his services for free. Angelique has other ideas, however, as she has already been charmed by Argon's apprentice, Cleante (Luke Humphrey). What's more, Thomas Diafoirerhoea, the young doctor Argon has in mind to marry his daughter, happens to be a ridiculous and disgusting idiot (portrayed masterfully by Ian Lake). To complicate things further, Argon's opportunistic wife, Beline (a hilariously villainous Trish Lindstrom) is plotting to find a way to inherit his money when he dies. The only people savvy to this are his brother, Beralde-played with just the right combination of incredulousness and brotherly concern, by Ben Carson, and Argon's patient-as-possible Nursemaid, Toinette (the excellent Brigit Wilson). This sets us up for quite the comedy. And this cast delivers.
Moliere's plays were typically performed in the court of King Louis XIV, and Moliere famously portrayed Argon for the first 4 performances of LE MALADA IMAGINAIRE, before becoming ill on stage and dying later in the evening after his fourth performance after no doctor would see him. This was likely due to the fact that Moliere had a tendency to make fun of doctors-specifically their refusal to accept new scientific discovery. This is explored to great effect in THE HYPOCHONDRIAC and this version allows it to continue to be relatable, as it not-so-subtly jabs at anti-vaxxers, and those who favour naturopathic medicine.
In this version of the production, audiences are treated to a play-within-a-play, where we first see Moliere's troupe of actors and dancers preparing for a performance and getting excited to perform in front of of Sanjay Talwar's Louis XIV. This also allows for a clever ending that still mirrors the end of the original play, but also gets to mirror history.
Like the troupe of performers gleefully preparing to perform for the King, this company is also clearly having a great time with this production. Their energy is felt into the top rows of the audience and the laughter and attention from the audience never falters because of it.
THE HYPOCHONDRIAC continues in Repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 14th.
Photo Credit: David Hou