JWR Articles: Live Event - The Hypochondriac (Director: Antoni Cimolino) - August 23, 2016
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The Hypochondriac

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Subtlety goes down the drain

Re-orchestrating classical music has few proponents save and except for a few maestros or musicologists tinkering with brass parts when certain notes—at the time of conception—were not available to the composer (e.g., French horns in Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony).

In the Baroque era, a figured bass was expected to be "realized" by all performers (to their credit many still do to this day), laying the groundwork for jazz and improvisation centuries down the road.

In the theatre "dickering" with classic English plays (notably Shakespeare's) is usually done by (a) shipping the setting to various places and eras (b) tinkering with snippets of scenes based on various text sources. "Foreign" language plays (i.e., written in anything other than English) for English audiences are subject to the skill sets of translators—most of whom move heaven and earth to remain faithful to the "urtext."

Why then—in recent years and in many venues—is it deemed necessary not only to translate but also adapt timeless masterpieces from the likes of Chekhov and, here, Molière? Will these modern turns give audiences greater insights? Will they improve on already great art? Or—sadly but seemingly unstoppably—will they dumb down the playwright's intent while simultaneously putting many more bums in seats (or so management hopes) had the original "product" been left more or less untouched?

Sorry to say that with Richard Bean's new version from a "literal translation" (a curious term) by Chris Campbell, the at times quietly understated, frequently biting and boisterous wit of Molière slips into the popular culture, lowest common denominator domain of Adam Sandler films where grossness, nonetheless, readily turns into gross profits at the box office.

In director Antoni Cimolino's capable hands, the "real-life-stimulates-art" situation of the playwright-actor (Molière died soon after appearing in the fourth performance) is lovingly delivered from having Louis XIV (Sanjay Talwar resplendent in a flowing wig) actively observe the proceedings to the plaintive last call into the crowd from Béralde (Ben Carlson even manages to spit out the friends/enema yuk without gagging), "Is there a doctor in the house?"

Stephen Ouimette was nothing short of superb in his characterization of the perpetually ailing Argan (a.k.a. Molière). Especially wonderful were his ever charming array of visages during the steady progression from joyful invalid to sudden healer—here's an actor who could command anyone's attention even reciting the phone book!

Daughter Angelique was given a full-blooded performance (notably in the opera-within-the-play scene) thanks to Shannon Taylor. Suitor Cléante's unbridled passion was served up with conviction and gusto by Luke Humphrey. Béline, Argan's second wife of just 18 months (her seventh union in search of timely hubby death and cash) was opportunistically and shallowly presented by Trish Windstorm who positively radiated at the prospect of getting into her solicitor's briefs at least twice a week. Brigit Wilson was in very fine form as the saucy servant, Toilette, ably holding her with Argan's abuse and deftly turning the tables towards unmasked truth rather than the appearance of love.

The wildly different father-son duo (Monsieur Diafoirerhoea—the original being Diafoirus, wouldn't that have been enough to produce the wisecrack link?—was done up with Peter Hutt's inexhaustible vigour; Ian Lake aptly demonstrated his tone and timing skills as son Thomas, no one was left doubting his social shortfalls) infused a heady dose of English TV humour at its best with tinges of Sykes and Monty Python adding more fuel to the laugh track. (How curious that one of the biggest reactions from the delighted crowd was the insertion of present-day specialists and wait-time jokes.)

Yet the preponderance of poop droppings, piss cocktails and rectal prodding only managed to leave the original play's subtleties pouring down the drain (giving not a few the "runs" or perhaps wanting to "vacate" their seats!).

Nonetheless, the acting was great and Cimolino's reverence to the playwright most commendable, but far fewer excursions to the realm of feces unleashed would have left most of the patrons moved much more in the way the playwright intended. JWR

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