FTT to perform “The Imaginary Invalid”
Thomas Murphy | Wednesday, November 14, 2018
The Notre Dame Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) department will perform Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid” as adapted by Constance Congdon and based on a new translation by Dan Smith, class of ’98. The production is directed by FTT faculty member Carys Kresny, and will run from Nov. 14 to Nov. 17 in the Patricia George Decio Theatre in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC).
“The Imaginary Invalid,” first written as a ballet in the 17th century, features the comedic story of a hypochondriac who desperately tries to marry off his daughter to a doctor in order to attain free medical care.
Kresny said that FTT chose the play because of the immense challenge it presents to actors, as well as its ability to entertain audiences.
“[FTT was] looking for a comedy and looking for a piece that builds the actors virtuosity,” Kresny said. “This piece really fit the bill absolutely because you have to be really nimble both physically and mentally for this piece. It makes demands on you that more realistic contemporary plays don’t always make. It’s good for us for training and it’s also a treat for the audience because it has a level of spectacle and athleticism that you don’t always get to see. … It’s a really lively, vivid, outrageous comedy.”
One of the reasons that “The Imaginary Invalid” is so challenging to actors is it involves a method of acting that is not common in modern theatre. Senior R. Tyrel London, who plays Argan, the hypochondriac father, said he and his fellow performers are challenged to adopt character types they are not familiar with.
“The biggest thing is the that the technique is different,” London said. “[‘The Imaginary Invalid’s’ acting style] is based off commedia dell’arte … which has stock characters where each have their own shape. … One of the ways we’ve been taught to act here is outside-in — you use your body to generate all of the stuff that you do and then hopefully that will generate the emotion inside of you and that will make it real, but at least if it doesn’t you’re doing something with your body and the audience can’t tell. I like that technique better because it’s a lot easier than being like ‘I’m going to make sure I feel sad in this moment.’ This commedia style is very much [the latter]. So, it’s been cool to put together all of [my training] that I know with this entirely new art form that I don’t.”
Another challenging element of the play is the degree to which actors are asked to be physical. London, who has experience with such physical acting, said that the physicality is tiring but worth the comedic value it adds.
“It’s so demanding. I am exhausted,” London said. “It’s two hours of running around on stage in really weird shape. I’m already a physical actor — I like moving around stage in funny and weird ways. … So, I’m running around, which is really funny for a character who thinks he’s dying and can’t get out of his chair. So, half the time I’m like ‘I’m too sick to move’ and the other half I’m running around trying to get what I want.”
Through commedia dell’arte’s caricatures, “The Imaginary Invalid” examines typical human experiences through the lens of the ridiculous in order to find meaning, Kresny said.
“One of the very fun things about the play is it deals with experiences we’ve all had,” Kresny said. “We’ve all been in love, we’ve all had a terrible boss, we’ve all tried to get out a problem that we’ve made for ourselves, we’ve all sometimes fooled ourselves. Its really universal human experience that the comedy is based in, it just takes it to an outrageous level.”
London said that where “The Imaginary Invalid” shines the most light on the human experience is how people experience and confront shame.
“People don’t [feel comfortable with shame], right? Modern playwriting, we try to use … subtext to try to hide all the stuff we want,” London said. “With stock characters, what we’re doing is being like ‘this is what I want at this exact moment and I need you to give it to me.’ The really cool thing about commedia is that it’s the idea that if we take away the shame from showing these really base wants, if we show our authentic selves, we might give other people — especially the audience — permission to do the same. So, in that sense, this play is like an antidote to shame.”