By Ann McCreary
Drama students from Seattle University arrive in the Methow Valley Sunday (Feb. 23) for a one-night-only presentation of Moliere’s comedy, The Imaginary Invalid, at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp.
A benefit for The Merc, the play is directed by Ki Gottberg, a Seattle University theater professor who brings a cast and crew of 21 people, along with props and costumes, for the performance.
“I love this play because it’s a celebration of human foibles,” said Gottberg, who is also artistic director at The Merc. “Moliere loved humans and loved to make fun of them.”
First performed in 1673, The Imaginary Invalid tells the story of Argan, a rich hypochondriac whose life focuses on finding cures for whatever he believes ails him. He’s so obsessed with his delicate health that he’s hatched a plan to marry off his eldest daughter to a doctor, in order to have one always close at hand. His daughter, however, has different ideas, and things get complicated in hilarious ways.
Moliere, considered the “father of modern Western comedy,” wrote the play during a time when doctors were generally “shysters and charlatans,” Gottberg said. They relied heavily on remedies like enemas and bleeding to purge the body of illness, methods that often made a patient’s condition even worse.
Gottberg has set the play in 2014, and said the obsession that people have with their heath still holds true, 400 years after Moliere wrote the play.
“There is still something so ‘today’ about the play … because it’s about the way humans fool themselves into believing all kinds of things,” Gottberg said. “I’ve directed the play before and never grown tired of it because it’s so comic.”
This “funniest of all Moliere’s funny plays” was the last play he wrote, Gottberg said. Ironically, Moliere collapsed onstage while performing the role of Argan and died shortly after.
Gottberg, who has taught theater at Seattle University for 27 years, plans to bring more of her university students to The Merc in future productions. Her goal is to expose her university students to performing in other venues, and to excite interest in theater among youths here in the valley.
“I want to get more young people in the valley interested in acting at The Merc. I want to build the acting pool,” said Gottberg, who became The Merc’s artistic director last September.
She plans performances with a mixed cast of her university students and local actors. “I want to build a bridge there,” she said.
Seattle University is funding the cast’s trip to the valley for The Merc performance, which will raise money for the theater’s new stage lighting. An anonymous donor has agreed to match the proceeds from ticket sales.
The performance begins at 6 p.m. and lasts about two hours. Tickets are $15 for adults, and the performance is free for audience members 18 and under. The play is recommended for ages 10 and older. Tickets are available at the door 30 minutes before show time.
For more information call 997-7529 or visit The Merc website at www.mercplayhouse.org.