Stratford Festival’s “The Hypochondriac”

The Hypochondriac may have started a little later in Stratford’s season, but it was definitely worth the wait. A hilarious Restoration comedy which was just as relevant today as for Molière himself, The Hypochonriac is sure to tickle everyone’s funny bone!

I really enjoyed the frame narrative for the play; not only was it based on the true facts surrounding the original play itself, but also was a great nod to the time period in general. I loved the Commedia Dell’Arte performance, the juggling and music and tumbling, all beautiful examples of the kind of street art which was so prevalent at the time and heavily informed Molière’s theatre. We also get to see Molière’s company preparing for the performance, totally unaware of what will befall them later in the evening. When the “doctors” came out at the end of that section with the cell phone, I nearly feel out of my chair laughing; I love it when they’re able to give the standard “Please turn off your cell phone” message in a unique and funny way. 

The appearance of King Louis further solidified the time period for the piece, but then also gave context to the many nods which are given to him throughout the play. It also added a level of meta-theatricality, making the frame all the more complete. 

However, at the end of the play, when the play within the play is over, and Molière (Stephen Ouimette) has taken ill, that meta-theatrically comes into play again as La Thorilliere (Ben Carlson) calls out “Is there a doctor in the house?” Reality comes crashing in on the hilarity we have just witnessed. This sobering ending was totally smashed to bits at the performance I attended, where someone said back “I’m not a doctor, but I’m a dentist!” We all laughed at the spontaneity of the whole incident, and yet it’s one of the things that make theatre the beautiful art it is; no one had ever shouted back before, the cast was flabbergasted! And yet that afternoon that lone voice responded to La Thorilliere’s pleas. And who knows if it’s happened again since? These one-off experiences make the show all the more memorable.

However the expert acting in this show is what’s truly memorable! Ouimette especially was pitiful, hilarious and yet loveable; a perfect Restoration lead. He was supported by a large, impressive cast, including Brigit Wilson, Trish Lindström, Ian Lake, Luke Humphrey and Shannon Taylor. They were truly able to bring not only Molière’s story, but his whole world to life on stage. And some of the cast exhibited extraordinary tablets: from tumbling to juggling to music and dancing, the expertise of the whole cast was truly put on display, and made for a feast for the eyes.

The Masque at the end of the play has to be one of my favourite conclusions to one of Molière’s works, as Argan (Ouimette) becomes the solution to his own ailments, and we can see a clear path to happily-ever-after for the characters involved. It provides a perfect juxtaposition to the ending to the play itself as I had mentioned previously; once Argan’s problems are solved, Molière’s begin. 

One of the things that I found the most interesting was how a modem audience was able to connect so fully to this play. Often times with Restoration comedy, there are so many jokes which are couched in inuendo or timely references that they don’t play well for a modern audience. Yet because this play deals with the human body, our health and the medical system, it remains totally relatable and still hysterical for today’s theatre-goers. It actually gives the show the same kind of universally human qualities that we see in other of our most beloved plays. 

The Hupochondriac closes on the 14th, so make sure to catch this hilarious comedy!

University Player’s “Molière Impromptu”

The University Players at the University of Windsor (my alma mater) started off the season with roaring laughter! Molière Impromptu was a riot fit for 17th Century France that was wonderfully enjoyable. Having studied both Molière and the time period in several classes, this play was wonderful both for entertainment but intellectually for me as well.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this show was its use of Commedia Dell’Arte. It fits in perfectly with the show, as Commedia was one of Molière’s greatest influences and those stereotypes are ever present in his plays. Watching the characters of the play embody the typical characters of Commedia Dell’Arte was fabulous and funny. Plus, knowing that the students study Commedia throughout their university career, it gave them a great opportunity to show off what they’ve learned.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed was that it was a play about playwriting. There are going to be two plays like that this season and I eagerly await the second one. For me, it’s interesting to look at how we choose to remember these playwrights that it’s not just through their own work, or through academic paper, but through their own medium: plays. It makes me wonder how future generations are going to view these playwrights and how much of an impact plays like this will have on that view. That being said, it’s also very funny because it is a play about putting on a play, it is easy to find the stereotypes presented within any theatre company. I loved it, and it made the story even more enjoyable!

The performances by the entire cast were wonderful. It was clear to see how much hard work and dedication went into this play. It was a wonderful ensemble piece, and it’s actually very difficult to talk about them all individually or point out specific people. Each one brought something wonderful to the play, and I felt like they made these stock characters come to life in a most beautiful way. I am so incredibly proud of all of them. It’s such a blessing to be able to see the wonderful young people who I have had the pleasure of acting with, having class with, hanging out with, and teaching on stage in their 4th year, having lead roles and absolutely owning the stage. While it means I go a bit mama bear on them and shower them with my love, it is only because it is totally deserved and I know how hard they work to put on such an incredible show.

I simply must mention the amazing job that was done by the Scenic Artist and Costume designer, David Court and Agatha Knelsen respectively. The actors were adorned in such beautiful garments, and got to be on such a beautiful set it seemed almost surreal. I was so in love with the whole thing, and the people beside me were so impressed, they asked me “Isn’t the theatre like this all the time?” to which I got to answer “No, David created this beautiful place all his own and just for this show.” It’s truly amazing. I am always impressed by their work, and have been since I was a little girl, but this was something truly beautiful; they took this time period which I have studied so much and then made it real before my eyes. It was smashing!

While I would normally be telling you to rush out and get your tickets, I am unfortunately too late on that front. However, what I can tell you is that you definitely need to get your tickets for their next show as soon as you can, and please come out and support these fabulous students in their pursuit of what they love.