The ninth annual Bard SummerScape presents The Imaginary Invalid ("Le malade imaginaire," 1673), a classic comedy of manners by Molière, France's undisputed master of the genre. Blending satire with farce in an indictment of the medical profession, The Imaginary Invalid offers a scathing social and political commentary that retains its freshness and bite more than three hundred years after it was written. SummerScape's innovative, new, all-male production sees the return of husband-and-wife team Peter Dinklage and Erica Schmidt, following their successful collaboration on Bard's Uncle Vanya; Dinklage, the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning stand-out star of HBO's Game of Thrones, puts on women's dress to join a stellar cast directed by Schmidt, the creator of three previous hit BaRD Productions. The Imaginary Invalid will be presented in ten performances between July 13 and 22in Theater Two of the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts – a major architectural landmark – on Bard College's stunning Hudson River campus. The annual SummerScape Gala Benefit dinner precedes the July 14 performance.
This year's Bard Music Festival, to which, as in previous seasons, SummerScape is themed, explores "Saint-Saëns and His World," celebrating the life and works of Molière's compatriot, composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921), whose long and remarkable career helped shape the course of French music. Although the great 17th-century dramatist was less than fashionable among Saint-Saëns's contemporaries, the composer professed himself an aficionado of Molière's works, enjoying them in performance and personally undertaking reconstruction of the lost incidental music to The Imaginary Invalid.
For Molière, the pen-name under which Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622–73) attained immortality, "the purpose of comedy [was] to correct the vices of men." Through masterly comedies of manners like The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, The Miser, and The Imaginary Invalid, he satirized the hypocrisy and pretension of the ancien régime, winning the adulation of his fellow Parisians and of Louis XIV's court, though drawing criticism from moralists and the Catholic church. But it has taken posterity to do justice to the full extent of Molière's achievement, in raising comedy to the pitch of great art, and setting standards by which it has been judged ever since.
His last play, The Imaginary Invalid was first staged in 1673 as a three-act comédie-ballet featuring incidental music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Targeting both hypochondriacs and the money-grubbing medics who exploit them, its protagonists include the wealthy Argan, who obsessively doses his imagined complaints with costly treatments and tonics; his quack doctor, Mr. Purgon; and his maidservant Toinette, whose wily good sense provides a foil for her master's lack of it. Argan's fixation so blinds him to the realities of family life that it is only by faking his own death that he learns the truth about his gold-digging second wife, Béline, and genuinely devoted daughter, Angélique. The playwright himselfundertook the title role in the original production; with macabre irony, hehemorrhaged during the fourth performance, and – despite managing to complete the show – died later that evening. His final creation, however, lives on.
As the imaginary invalid himself, Bard's all-male cast stars Ethan Phillips, best-known for long-running roles on TV's Star Trek: Voyager and Benson. Donnie Keshawarz – familiar from hitshows like The Sopranos, 24, Law and Order, and Lost, as well as films like 2011's The Adjustment Bureau – plays Argan's lawyer brother, Béralde. The new production reunites Preston Sadleir and Zach Booth, who recently co-starred Off-Broadway as identical twins in the New York premiere of Edward Albee's Me, Myself & I. Both undertake cross-dressing roles, Booth as Argan's duplicitous wife, Béline, and Sadleir as his maligned daughter, Angélique. As rivals for Angélique's hand in marriage, Danny Binstock – recently seen in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Titus Andronicus – plays her favorite, Cléante, and Henry Vick, who proved "winningly goofy" in Twelfth Night (New York Times), is perfectly cast as her father's preference, the awkward Thomas Diafoirus. Damian Young, of television's Californication, Damages, and Law and Order, does double duty as Argan's two money-grubbing doctors, Mr. Purgon and Dr. Diafoirus, Thomas's father.