Entertainment » Theatre

The Hypochondriac

by Joe Siegel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Nov 15, 2018
F. William Oakes and Claire Blackmer in "The Hypochondriac."
F. William Oakes and Claire Blackmer in "The Hypochondriac."  

Moliere's "The Hypochondriac" (also known as "The Imaginary Invalid") has all the ingredients for a classic farce, but never quite lives up to its potential.

Burbage Theatre Company's production features F. William Oakes as Argan, who complains constantly about his imaginary aches and pains. Argan is a pajama-clad invalid, who is tended to by his long-suffering maid, Toinette (Clare Blackmer), and vengeful wife, Beline (Lee Rush).

Meanwhile, daughter Angelique (Gabrielle McCauley) has plans to marry Cleante (Mike Puppi), although Argan wants her to marry the dull-witted oaf Thomas (Ryan Leverone), the son of Dr. Diafoirus (Marilyn Busch) and a doctor in training.

When Angelique rebels against Argan's orders, he threatens to send her off to a convent. Angelique's carefree sister Louison (Kelly Robertson) is treated as a non-entity.

Oakes, a veteran of several 2nd Story Theatre productions, plays Argan broadly, bellowing and bloviating about his poor health. He seems to be mimicking Mel Brooks at times, but it's still a curiously one-note performance. It's amusing at first when Argan muses about stomach gas and enemas, but his misanthropic routine grows tiresome quickly.

Argen, with the encouragement of Toinette, plays a nasty trick on Beline and his daughters. It's funny, but also deeply cruel.

If you were to encounter someone like this in real life, the natural instinct would be to run far away.

Blackmer is compelling as a woman who refuses to tolerate Argan's histrionics. She wields a feather duster like a sword, giving us some insight into her true feelings.

Rush is suitably heinous as a woman who schemes to gain Argan's fortune. Unfortunately, it's an underdeveloped role.

Puppi and McCauley are tremendously appealing as the two young lovers. At one point, they have to improvise a song to impress Argen. This should have been hilarious, but the lackluster writing lets them down.

Director Wendy Overly ("How I Learned to Drive") utilizes lots of stylistic flourishes. At one point, the performers sport baroque masks and dance in their period wardrobes. It's great looking but does nothing to enhance the story, which reaches a climax I found to be bizarre and unsatisfying.

Valerie Westgate ("Venus in Fur") has one of the best scenes in the show as Argan's sister Beralde, who diagnoses his condition with lacerating honesty. Westgate is a dynamic performer and enlivens the second act considerably.

Beralde questions Argan's faith in doctors who make huge sums of money from prescribing medications to their patients. Considering the play was first performed in 1673, it is unusually timely, especially in light of the opioid epidemic. There seems to be a pill for every malady known to man. Are we all addicts to modern medicine?

If only "The Hypochondriac" had dived deeper into this subject, it could've been a show worth seeing.

"The Hypochondriac runs through December 2. Burbage Theatre Company. 249 Roosevelt Avenue. Pawtucket. For tickets, call 401-484-0355 or go to www.burbagetheatre.org.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.


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