When the “Imaginary Invalid” kicks off at the Parson’s Nose Theater today it marks another step forward for the theater.
The new adapted version French playwright Molière’s play by Producing Artistic Director Lance Davis hits home on several different levels.
The play is about a fellow obsessed with the attention he gets from his doctors. He decides he’s going to marry off his daughter to the doctor’s son just so he can have a doctor in the family.
“Molière said the purpose of comedy is to educate while entertaining,” Davis said. “We learn through art. Just by showing this is good, and you laugh or say ‘That’s me’ or ‘That’s what happened in my household.’ But remember, this was written in 1670. We have this kinship.”
Davis has taken this play on the road for 20 years and he knows it well. In addition to adaptation, Davis portrays lead character, Argan, the self-centered patriarch of the family.
He said though society has evolved in many ways during the time he has worked the play, the desire to have money and attention has not.
“We’re spending fortunes on treatments that aren’t helpful instead of looking at reason and nature and listening to our bodies,” Davis said. “We should ask what really will help, or is this for the attention or because someone has told us to do something that isn’t the best advice.”
Davis’ wife, Mary Chalon directs the work that was translated and adapted by Davis.
There’s a person in Molière’s plays who says “It’s about me, what’s good for me,” Davis said. “That’s what throws everything out of kilter and in this case he’s going to ruin the life of his daughter because he needs it.”
The play is a comedy of obsession, Davis said, and relates to people today.
“Self serving parents blindly sacrificing their children’s happiness can be tragic, as in Romeo and Juliet, or comical as in The Imaginary Invalid,” Davis said. “When we see our own dysfunctional families in those of previous times we feel a kinship. We’re not alone, we’re all human and will live through it.”
There are 15 performances, Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon. On February 15, in a Saturday matinee Pasadena internist Dr. Peter Rosenberg, will hold a discussion on Molière’s medicine.
“Families have always been families and there’s nothing new. The classics are there to remind us, the reason they are classics is so we say ‘Oh my God, that’s what’s going on today.”
The nonprofit theater company dedicated to introducing classic comedic theater by such authors as Molière, Shakespeare, Boucicault, Hans Andersen and Goldoni to audiences of all ages opened in 2000 and was co-founded by Davis and his wife Chalon.
Both longtime actors, the couple came to Los Angeles from New York because they wanted to have a child and did not want to raise the child in New York. Their child now grown has moved to Manhattan.
After the couple came to Los Angeles they did television. Davis also began teaching at Cal State LA and Cal State San Bernardino.
“I realized my students didn’t know these plays by Shakespeare and Molière,” Davis said. “They had heard of them but they’d never seen them.”
To make matters worse, the students had few places to see the works and when they were performed they were nearly three hours long and the language is difficult to understand.
The couple started a theater group and began remaking the plays and touring for the Geffen Theater for six years and touring LA and Pasadena schools.
“I know these plays really well to be able to take them and distill them down,” Davis said. “I like to say that I don’t do hip hop versions of plays. We don’t do rock and roll versions of the place. We trust the material. I think we try and stay as true to the writers as we possibly can. I worked very hard on that and it’s been my life. I’ve done hundreds of these plays and I know them very well. So I try and distill it into what is the basic story. When you come out of there, you will know the story and the plot and the characters and the language and be familiar with it and have enjoyed it.”
Eventually the theater did some plays in a coffee house called James and Brown where longtime actor and voice artist Barry Gordon saw a performance.
“I was absolutely blown away,” Gordon told Pasadena Now. “It’s a professional company with union member actors and people that I’d actually seen on TV or in movies. I was really surprised. I had expected kind of a small community theater and saw this extraordinary professional company that was one of the best.”
Gordon became a regular audience member, but that didn’t last too long. About a month later, Davis told Gordon he wanted him to perform in the next play. Gordon has been performing with them ever since.
In May the theater will be performing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” called “Imogen.”
“Imogen is really the lead character in the play,” Davis said. “So I said, let’s focus on her. It’s the year of the woman. It’s a hundred years since the women’s suffrage. So, those were our three full productions. And in addition to that, we do a reader’s theater series, which is something we’ve come up with. It’s a, it’s a very fun form of theater that became very popular after World War II where people didn’t have money for sets and costumes and all that. But what we can do is staged readings of plays. Audiences love them because it’s just actors reading plays.”
The “The Imaginary Invalid” opens today and runs through March 1 at the Parson’s Nose Theater, 95 N Marengo Ave, Pasadena. Performances run Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00p.m. and 8:00p.m., and Sundays at 3:00p.m. For more call (626) 403-7667 or visit https://www.parsonsnose.org/