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The Imaginary Invalid

The Comédie-Française, otherwise known as "House of Molière," came to BAM with its namesake's final play in a production that mixes the traditional and the contemporary.

Alain Pralon portrayed Argan, the hypochondriac title character who tries to force his daughter (Julie Sicard) to marry a doctor's dimwitted son (Nicolas Lormeau) so he'll have medical care for life. (Molière himself originated the role, and died onstage performing it.) Argan's plan is thwarted through the plotting of a crafty maid (Muriel Mayette), the daughter's true love (Eric Ruf), and his sensible brother (Alain Lenglet). In so doing, they expose Argan's second wife (Catherine Sauval) as an insincere gold digger.

Predictably, the cast had the style down to its fingertips, though arguably director Claude Stratz's directorial concept -- a noirish take, meant to highlight the melancholy aspects of the comedy -- undercut some of the fun. So, too, Jean-Philippe Roy's lighting, emphasizing the changes of day specified by Molière, made for a rather gloomy stage picture.

Ezio Toffolutti's costumes were traditional in the best house style, and his symbolically dilapidated set fit the concept; ditto Kuno Schlegelmilch's stylish makeup and wigs. Marc-Olivier Dupin's music, like the production overall, mixed a period feel with an edgy modern sound, and Sophie Mayer arranged some sprightly choreography.

Mike Sens' English titles were concise and clever, especially the Latin mumbo-jumbo that comes amusingly into play. Their projection was admirably clear, which was a good thing, as the actors were not always ideally audible, though the Harvey's acoustics might be to blame. At times, Stratz's ambient sound effects -- howling wind, dripping water -- seemed more vivid than the dialogue.

Overall, it was a joy to have the Comédie-Française back on these shores once again -- for the first time since 1996. Here's hoping they put BAM on their dance card more often!

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