The genesis of Imagining the Imaginary Invalid was a small project based on Moliere’s The Imaginery Invalid. It was intended for the actress Ruth Maleczech, her daughter and a few dancers, and intended for audiences of small handfuls in the actress’ living room. The work was interrupted by Ms. Maleczech’s death. The concept, however, was enhanced, and developed into a major production involving well over a dozen performers. It comes from Mabou Mines and Trick Saddle, presented by La MaMa.
Moliere himself played the leading role in his company’s production; he died during the fourth performance. Imagining the Imaginary Invalid has at its center the conceit of a terminally ill performer in the role.
Moliere's The Imaginery Invalid is the kernel of the show, but we see very little of it. There are three levels of stage reality in the production. The cast presents us with Moliere’s characters, and they present us with the members of Moliere’s company as they produce his play. They also present a contemporary theater company based on Mabou Mines and Trick Saddle.
It’s a brilliant concept, and the company’s stage skills are brilliant as well. Marylouise Burke has taken the role conceived by Ms. Maleczech, and her work is splendid.
Late in the show we’re told “You’re probably pretty confused by now,” and it’s true. The concept is too grand to bear execution. Taken out of context – that is, without the aid of the program notes – Imagining the Imaginary Invalid is bewildering. After all, we’re presented with scenes as disparate as snippets of Moliere’s play, a long, present-day conversation between a patient (presumably representing Ms. Maleczech) and her two doctors, and Cole Porter’s Night and Day sung in French. With no clarification within the production itself.
There’s a gorgeous, shimmering, beaded gold curtain upstage that lets us see behind it, where there are a pair of chandeliers hanging. La MaMa’s space, large for off-off-Broadway, looks lovely.