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BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Presented in French with English surtitles by Comedie-Francaise
June 9-12, 7:30 pm; June 13, 3:00 pm, $25, 40, 60.
(718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org
Reviewed by Robert Hicks on June 11, 2004.

Moliere knew how to get a laugh, but he tinged his famous comedy "Le Malade imaginaire" (The Imaginary Invalid) with melancholic insights about death, too. France's revered troupe Comedie-Francaise pulled off a beautiful production full of physical humor, dramatic irony, farce, mistaken identity, wordplay and social satire - all those wonderful qualities that have endeared audiences to Moliere's plays for over three centuries - under the able hand of director Claude Stratz at BAM's Harvery Theater, June 9-13, 2004.

The Swiss-born Stratz, directing Moliere for the first time, marvelously highlighted the low and high comedy, yet he subtly underscored the melancholic themes of illness and impending death through light and shadow to suggest climactic changes in the physical world outside hypochondriac Angar's imagined illnesses. He also introduced commedia dell'arte to give the song and dance sequences a carnival effect, emphasizing Moliere's penchant for the carnivalesque. What stood supreme, though, was his ability to elicit great comedic acting from the entire cast in Moliere's attack on the quackery of the 17th century medical profession.

Argan and his maid Toinette disagree about his daughter Angelique's proposed arranged marriage to Dr. Diaforius's hilariously awkward son Thomas. Argan's imagined illnesses and his self-interested desire to have his daughter wed a doctor stand in the way of his understanding other's scheming motives. Angelique, on the other hand, is an ingénue who loves Cleante who pretends to be her music instructor during the wonderful scene in which Dr. Diaforius and his son arrive to ask for Angelique's hand in marriage. Meanwhile, Argan's second wife, Beline, schemes to get her new husband's money. Moliere can't resist poking fun at France's legal system, too, by exposing loopholes in laws concerning inheritance. Argan's brother, Belarde, exposes the quackery of the medical profession. With his help, Toinette convinces Argan to feign death to expose everyone's true feelings about him.

The entire cast was superb. Alain Praton portrayed the hypochondriac of the title, showing both his character's pampered side and his vitriolic disposition with great low and high comedy. Muriel Mayette delivered the maid's saucy impertinence and mockery with sharply defined physical gestures and straight-faced aplomb even in the low comedy. Christian Blanc gloriously captured the pomposity and quackery of Dr. Diaforius. Catherine Sauval astutely underplayed the villainous, scheming Beline. Nicolas Lormeau humorously rendered the physically awkward suitor Thomas, who represented the new class of "educated" doctors. All in all, the production offered a lucid, very funny, yet unsettling night of Moliere.[Hicks]

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