The Illustrious Invalid by Simon Bradbury
The year is 1673 and a consumptive Moliere prepares to do a performance of ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ for his benefactor King Louis. However, his cough is getting much worse and he is intermittently coughing up blood. Knowing his very life to be in the balance, his servant La Forest elicits the help of La Grange, the theatre registrar, to persuade Moliere not to perform. Moliere is stubborn and La Forest suggests Dufresne, an actor in the company who plays Dr Purgeon whose penchant for enemas is well known, as a solution to Moliere’s health issues. Horrified as he is, the playwright is badgered into taking an enema to mollify his tormentors. Unfortunately, as the enema is about to be administered, La Tournier, one of the King’s musketeers, catches them in a compromising position. Coming to tell the troupe that the king will not be attending the performance, he completely misinterprets the scene as an inappropriate act. He then becomes determined to disrupt the evening on moral grounds.
Meanwhile, Moliere’s wife Armand joins the chorus to keep the writer from the stage. Moliere is immovable and rebuffs attempts to have him sign a document renouncing the acting profession. The document is critical; for should Moliere die without repenting and renouncing the acting profession, a trade considered an abomination by the church and respectable society, he would not be allowed a Christian burial, a disaster for his soul and his loved ones still living.
Complicating matters further is an affair between Armand and Baron, a young member of the troupe, who has ambitions to play Moliere’s role on stage as well as in the nuptial bed. Moliere, knowing of the indiscretion and obsessed with being cuckolded, is intent on catching the two ‘in flagrante’. To add to the mayhem is the arrival of a mad priest, hell bent on exorcizing, the ‘godless’ actor and dangerous satirist of the church.
During the course of the next two hours, enemies and friends alike all conspire, for their own reasons, to keep Moliere from performing the play. Tyrannical patronage, marriage, censorship and paganism at odds with Christianity are some of the themes explored in this rum, bum tickly farce. Using physical as well as verbal comedy, The Illustrious Invalid is a frothy, madcap romp in the tradition of the Romanesque farce for five men and two women.
Produced by Kinetic Theatre, Pittsburgh PA, June 2022
Run time: 115 minutes
Content note: Contains some swearing, some "comic enema administering"
Cast size: 7 actors
Male roles: 5
Female roles: 2
Casting note: The male character playing Lagrange also plays the characters of the Caretaker, L'Tournier and King Louis.
"[The Illustrous Invalid is] daring, innovative, and hilarious, but most of all so precise in its dramatic components that you might not notice, for example, how well-written it is, especially as it’s emulative of the work of the great French playwright Molière, and thus, one might assume, would suffer by comparison. But it doesn’t in the least. And this is where things get interesting."
-- Stuart Sheppard, Pittsburgh Quarterly