At Kimball Theatre located just off of the College of William and Mary’s campus, the College’s theater department presented the play “The Imaginary Invalid” from Nov. 18 to 21. This play was initially written by French playwright Jean Baptiste Molière, but has been adapted for current audiences by American playwright James Magruder.
One of the highlights of the experience to many in the audience, including Jessi Cairns ’25, were the jokes and hilarities performed on stage, with physical pantomimes being at the forefront.
“I liked that some of the guy-clowns actually wore bras over their shirts for the comedic aspect of it,” Cairns said. “The clowns made it for me.”
Another audience member, Sergio Castagnoli ’25, found one scene, which included exaggerated motions with an ironic twist, particularly funny.
“I thought it was really funny in the scene where the invalid was punishing his daughter and he was whipping her with a feather,” Castagnoli said.
Cast member Colin Billings ’24, who played Thomas Diafoirus, explained that the show is heavily based in physical comedy.
“There’s a lot of slapstick, and there’s a lot of dance numbers,” Billings said.
Along with the physical comedy of the play, there is also an abundance of verbal humor. One of the first scenes of the play has Argan, the titular imaginary invalid played by Zachary Roberts ’22, mentioning the absurd amount of suppository supplements they have taken in the past month.
The verbal humor is coupled with the physical, and this joke is followed up on in the second half of the play. Argan nearly got an enema on the stage, only being interrupted seconds before the insertion occurred. The variety of the jokes in the play received acclaim from those who watched it.
“I think there is something for everyone,” Cairns said.
The play opens with Argan lamenting what he believes to be his debilitating illness. The audience is then introduced to Argan’s servant Toinette, played by Maggie Sheridan ’22, and Argan’s daughter Angélique, played by Emma Wilkie ’25. Soon after, the main conflict of the play is revealed: while Angélique is in love with one man, her father Argan is trying to marry her to a future doctor without her consent so he can get cheaper medicine.
Following these events, Angélique’s true love, Cléante, played by Adriano Moran ’25, comes onto the set disguised as her music teacher in an attempt to see her. Moran’s playing of Cléante was seen as an exceptionally good performance for Castagnoli.
“He was a standout role for me,” Castagnoli said.
In a hilarious twist of events, this also happens to be the time that the man that Angélique is set to marry, Thomas Diafoirus, arrives with his father. His arrival leads to hijinks with Cléante not being able to reveal his true identity and being put on the spot about his musical prowess. Angélique also has her fears confirmed when she realizes that Thomas Diafoirus is not only dull and uninteresting, but sometimes even threatening and aggressive.
In the subsequent scenes, Argan’s brother Béralde, played by Sam Suslavich ’22, enters and proceeds to question not only the nature of his sibling’s illness, but whether it is even real at all. Béralde hatches a plan with Toinette about how to make himself less naïve about taking the advice of anyone who claims to be a doctor by having Toinette pretend to be one herself. She gives him horrible advice, and the plan seems to have had some success.
Lastly, the finale of the play has Argan faking his death and comparing the reactions of his second wife and his daughter. His second wife, in a scene that had the audience laughing from wall to wall, was elated at this news to the point where she was jumping around the stage, with the source of her excitement being that she thought she would receive money from Argan’s will. Angélique, on the contrary, was devastated at this news, despite all of the things her father had done to keep her from her true love. This convinces Argan to let his daughter marry Cléante, and he later comes to the revelation that he should become his own doctor, as he knows his body better than any other doctor would.
The story of the play was met with praise from audience members like Castagnoli.
“I think it’s a fun way to spend your evening, and I think you’ll probably laugh at some point,” Castagnoli said.
Billings discussed how “The Imaginary Invalid” marked the return for many people to theatre since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hope they leave laughing, I hope they leave with a smile and I hope they enjoy the show, because it’s very funny,” Billings said. “And if we can boost anyone’s day, that’s a victory for me.”
According to Cairns, in addition to the humor and story, the costume and set design were both incredibly well received and enhanced the viewing experience.
Each character was not only outfitted with colorful designs that helped to complement their performance, but the backdrop under which they acted elevated the play to another level.
Additionally, as the version performed was not the original, there were some changes to the script that enhanced the experience for a modern audience, like audience member Daniel Jang ’25. Occasionally, the characters would incorporate modern slang into the performance, which never failed to get a laugh from the audience.
“This is a really old play from, like, the 1700s, but they incorporated a lot of modern elements into it,” Jang said. “It’s always fun to see those kinds of takes, like the main character is a very sickly person, and his brother comes along and plays this twentieth century workout tape for him that’s acted out on stage.”
“The Imaginary Invalid” was met with admiration and applause by nearly every audience member I spoke with, and the hard work of those who were involved in it seems to have paid off.
“The people in it that are doing it — actors, technicians and wardrobes — have been working so hard on it, and we really want to deliver a great show,” Billings said.