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!