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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review- The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only (Planet Connections Festivity)

The Fab Marquee review by Dianna Martin.

The Planet Connections Festivity has brought together a long list of shows all in the name of the greater good; each show highlighting a particular cause or organization that helps those in need or our environment. Hats off to this endeavor to combine the world of Off-Off Broadway Theatre and the creative minds behind it with just causes to benefit the community. One of those shows I have seen so far is The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only, and although I respect the message trying to be made by the production, I had trouble with it's actual execution - and feel that the attempt to go for an stylized effect unfortunately exceeded the actual depth of the play and got in its way.

The Imaginary Invalid: By Perscription Only, written and directed by NYIT Award-winner Aliza Shane, is loosely based on Le Malade Imaginaire by Moliere. Arganne (Stasi Schaeffer) is a wealthy, agoraphobic hypochondriac whose addiction to the pills - and the doctors prescribing them for their own gain, not her health - is spiraling her life into nothing more than sleep, ranting, eating pills, and receiving enemas. Her surly, entertaining and often funny maid/assistant Toinette (Michelle Foytek) and sister Beralde (Kymberly Tuttle) are trying to save her before it's too late; for her health and to save her relationship with her rebellious teen daughter Angelique (Ayelet Blumberg). Let's not forget the other villain of the story (the main ones being the doctors), her money-grubbing husband (Kevin Mitchell) who is just waiting for Arganne to O.D. so he can inherit her estate (some fun moments in the show are his joy when he thinks she has died).

Mother's Little Helpers

Combine this premise with the amazing choreography of Chandra Calentine as she has the doctors also play the actual grips of the pills themselves incarnate, as they rattle off facts about each medicine's uses and side-effects while in fluid and graceful motion, and one would think you have a recipe for a fantastic show.

Alas, that is not the case. Yes, there were moments when I was enjoying the show very much, but to do so I had to get past so many other moments when I was so annoyed with actors not creating a believable life on stage and the main character's voice and entire existence which I understand is supposed to be annoying; she is so into her medicines that she sees nothing else. However, most of the time she opened her mouth I wanted to cringe. I understand the usefulness of this to a degree as having us understand her character, but after a point I felt that I needed to take a pill myself to get through the rest of the play every time she whined - which was continuous. By the end I could have cared less of her fate. I don't look to the actress for this; I, instead, see it as a directorial choice. Although this is a dark comedy, and a stylized piece, there were times I wanted it to just share the message it was trying to get across (the dangers of always believing doctors and allowing pills to be the answer to all our problems) and devil be damned with it's absurdist intentions. I just think the story around what it was trying to do fell flat of the actual message...which is a very important one.

I cannot, however, stress the delightful choreography and movement of the "pill people/Doctors" (Anthony Aguilar, Melanie Bell, Harlan Short, Emily Tuckman, Ebru Yonak); they are, to me, what saved the play. I found that the moments when they are telling us what these medicines are and what they do, as we see a desperate (and exasperating) Arganne shoveling them into her mouth, it pulls the meaning of the piece and its importance into the light of day (or, the great lighting by David Monroy). I would have just liked to have seen moments of actors really dealing with each other - even in the framework of a stylized piece. The moments that I chuckled with enjoyment and went with the flow were there, but I felt this piece could have been so much more than what it was.

One great aspect of this show was not the show itself but the cause it was supporting: The Hospice of New York. It's an important cause and I applaud the producers for picking this one.

Planet Connections Festivity
Aliza Shane Production present
Aliza Shane's
The Imaginary Invalid: By Prescription Only
June 13-27, 2009
Robert Moss Theatre

Tickets are $18. For tickets, schedule and more information on Planet Connections Theatre Festivitiy, visit

The Robert Moss Theatre | 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette, 3rd Fl | Manhattan.

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