The Imaginary Invalid: A 300-year-old comedy about a hypochondriac
A classic comedy, written by the French playwright Moliere in 1673, is being presented by the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. The new adaptation of The Imaginary Invalid opens Friday in the Parish Theatre.
Veteran Kalamazoo actor Ben Zylman plays the character, Argan, the imaginary invalid. Zylman says Argan is a wealthy, miserable, housebound hypochondriac.
“It’s interesting because he is, at first glance, nothing but irritable and cantankerous and certainly not that pleasant to be around," says Zylman. "But as an actor it’s been a wonderful exercise to kind of get beneath that and to find out why he is that way. And, I really believe that he’s given up a lot of his personal power. And, he’s succumbed to the situation around him. And, I think his inability to be happy or to see happiness is a result of that.”
Karen Berthel is directing the play for the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre.
“He’s an imaginary invalid because he has stopped loving in his life,” she says, “and stopped trusting the people around him. In this version of Imaginary Invalid he is transformed and makes the choice to dance and sing and love his life again.”
But, for most of the play, Argan is completely obsessed with his own health and the health care he receives.
“This adaptation we’re doing was written in 2011. What I love about it is it’s set in 1969," Ben Zylman says. "So, it has this sort of Laugh-In or The Spy Who Shagged Me sensibility. But it has very modern or current references to health care and all of the issues we’re facing. It’s a play that’s hundreds of years old, it’s an adaptation that is very current, and yet, it’s set in 1969.”
As the play progresses Argan plans to have one of his daughters enter into an arranged marriage, to a doctor, so that he will have access to constant medical care without having to pay for it. Zylman says even though The Imaginary Invalid was written over 300 years ago, many of the themes are still relevant.
“I do think it is kind of one of the hallmarks of truly great art, is that it is so universal, and that that universality reaches across centuries,” Zylman says.
And, with health care still a hot topic in contemporary society, Zylman says this play is timely and well-served by its comedic nature.
“Well and I think that one of the great things about comedy, about humor. It’s so disarming," he says. "And it really does provide you with an opportunity to look at things in a very different way.”
The Kalamazoo Civic’s production of The Imaginary Invalid is on at the Parish Theatre October 12th through the 27th.