The Perpetual Patient

A challenge faces anyone who updates Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid–including prolific playwright Keith Reddin and director Michael Maggio, the creators of this new version, being introduced in a student production at DePaul University (where Maggio teaches). Compared to today’s doctors, 17th-century medical men were charlatans; as a result, Moliere’s antimedical diatribe carries less conviction than it used to. Wisely, Reddin sets this sturdy adaptation in 1900, when patent-medicine quacks and snake-oil salesmen peddled Electro-Magneto Theronoid Belts, recalling T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel The Road to Wellville, set in the same period. Argan, a hypochondriac, wants to marry his daughter–a budding suffragette–to a nerdy fraud in order to acquire a live-in physician. In the spirit of a traveling medicine show, Reddin throws in cornball humor and killer puns (“We have met the enema and he is us”), while Jeffrey Lunden and Arthur Perlman (whose musical Wings Maggio directed at the Goodman studio) contribute two effervescent songs in the style of the period. Still, this script in progress is no threat to Richard Wilbur’s smooth translation at this point: Reddin’s sardonic raillery sometimes clashes with Moliere’s merrier mockery. But Maggio, who directed the premiere of Reddin’s All the Rage at the Goodman last year, knows how to handle the humor. His fast-paced, efficient staging keeps the nonsense fulminating: a medical-academy chorus jauntily demonstrates mail-order contraptions that killed more than they cured, and set designer Todd Rosenthal imagines Argan’s antiseptic sanitarium as a Marx Brothers playroom. Though Benjamin Clement has intermittent fun in the title role, the scene stealers are Vanessa Greenway as a saucy socialist maid and Stewart Ian Levine as a fraudulent guru. With a sharper focus on the characters rather than the gizmos, Reddin’s new version could make it all the way to Wellville. The Theatre School, DePaul University, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo, 312-922-1999. Through May 24: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $6-$10.

–Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still by Lara Goetsch.