Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Le Malade Imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid)

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Here's the thing about literature in translation: you have no way of knowing whether you actually like the original. I have no idea whether I like Tolstoy, but I pledge allegiance to Constance Garnett. The same is true of Moliere--Richard Wilbur's amazing translations are what made me fall hopelessly in love with the 17th-century colossus of the French stage. But without having drunk from the francophone fountainhead, do any of us really know Moliere? Now his own company, La Comedie-Francaise, makes its Chicago debut with his final play, a satire in which a hypochondriac tries to secure a lifetime of free medical care by marrying his daughter off to a medical student. Is it any wonder this play is still performed given the cost and availability of health care today? Only a snippet of the production was available for preview, but it reveals touches of a darker sensibility, with the doctors portrayed as terrifying shades dancing behind a scrim to heavy, swelling music. There's still plenty of physical comedy, but the overall tone is in keeping with the fact that Moliere, playing the lead, collapsed during the play's fourth performance and died soon thereafter. (And English-speaking actors think Macbeth is bad luck!) This production plays in French with English supertitles, and though surely something will be lost in translation, the actors appear to dig beneath Moliere the blithe and silly to the savage critic within. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand, 312-595-5600. Opens Thursday, June 17, 8 PM. Through June 20: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $75; $125 for Friday performance and postshow dessert reception.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): C. Doury.

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