Review: ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ by the Mason Players at George Mason University School of Theater

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Satire is a comic form I have always loved. Among the greatest geniuses of the genre is Molière, whose comedies from 3.5 centuries ago still evoke howls of laughter when done well. Directed by Nicholas Horner, the Mason Players production of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid, which opened last night in the TheatreSpace, is delightful. Using an adaptation and translation by the Director of George Mason University’s School of Theater, Ken Elston, the play delivers a fast-paced, well-acted satire making fun of quacks in the medical profession and hypochondriac patients who choose to believe they suffer from numerous maladies.

Leading the terrific troupe of actors was Nate McGraw as the hypochondriac Argan, and Madison McVeigh as his wise and wily servant Toinette. Argan is a stock character reflecting stereotypes about people whose lives center around constant concern for their own health, and although wealthy, he is a cheapskate. The central problem of the show is that he plans to marry off his eldest daughter Angelique to a doctor, so that he can get his medical needs taken care of by his own family (maybe for free). Angelique (Frankie Kachur) has fallen in love with someone else, Cleante (Matt Davis), and it is up to Toinette to help the course of true love to find a way forward. Toinette is another stock character, representing the servant who is more clever than her master, to whom she is surprisingly loyal, and McVeigh is joyfully impudent, sassy, and manipulative with Argan and those who are deceiving him.

The ensemble comes onstage a few times, chanting and moving in unison that satirically reflect the trendiness of current beliefs that are as ridiculous as they are fashionable. It is a well-rehearsed and choreographed group who all find comic moments to shine on their own.

Set designer Alex Wade modernized the setting beautifully. The paneled walls of Argan’s living space resemble the mostly opaque paper walls of old Japanese homes. The entrance doors are masked by transparent plastic drapes which are slid to the side like the portable curtain walls of hospital clinics. All shelves that line the walls are stocked with bottle after bottle of pills. A tea cart is adapted to hold a series of multi-colored IV bags, from which characters occasionally sip the contents. Hazardous waste trashcans, antibiotic dispensers, and spray bottles are at hand everywhere. Wade, props designer Angela Armstrong, and lighting designer Heather Rody, whose ambient lighting graces the wall panels, have crafted a terrific playground on which the actors can cavort. The color scheme is a consistent yellow-toned palette which coordinates well with the thoughtful modern costumes designed by Felicia Hecker.

I will admit to a bias, as I have a personal history with this show. Not only do I teach at the school and know many of those involved with this production, but a dozen years ago, I designed the set of The Imaginary Invalid using the same script adaptation. However, I was not the only one laughing uproariously. Guffaws, chortles, and snorts were heard from everyone in attendance. I look forward to seeing more work from Horner, Mason’s first MFA theatre student.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Imaginary Invalid presented by The George Mason University School of Theater and The Mason Players, plays at the TheaterSpace at George Mason University through March 4, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.