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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Satire sizzles in classic ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ in Oshkosh

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre and Radio-TV-Film Department

Autumn Christensen and Maxwell Benitz portray bickering maid and master in University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre’s production of “The Imaginary Invalid.” (UW-Oshkosh)

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – What can a play from 1673 bring to today? In the case of Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” it’s fun.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Theatre taps into the play’s major dose of satire, and the university’s Radio-TV-Film Department records the antics for access on the Internet.

Pay-to-view access continues to May 15, with the university’s spunky “The Gilbert and Sullivan Tavern Follies” included in a two-for-one offer. Some students perform in both shows, including aces in the theater program’s acting deck.

Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft of the faculty adapted and directed “The Imaginary Invalid,” the result being doubly successful.

The video starts with the players introducing themselves in the university’s theater hall. Next, they take to the stage in their street clothes and sing Marvin Hamlisch’s “One” from “A Chorus Line,” The song starts with “One singular sensation.” Huh? What does the song have to do with anything? The shoe-drop comes at the end. Dressed in graduation gowns and caps, the cast sings “One” again, this time playing on the COVID-19 pandemic presence: “One singular vaccination, every single shot we take.”

In between, there’s the story of Argan, a rich fool who believes he is ill. Argan has a quack for a doctor and a gold digger for a wife. Argan’s maid belittles him – but she’s the sensible one.

Moliere and Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft are mostly fun-and-games, but there are messages amid the silliness. One of Argan’s daughters from a previous marriage, Angelique (Lexi Bestol), wants to follow her heart and marry the man she loves. It’s true love. Argan finds a more suitable match for HIM – the son of his doctor, who is a quackier quack than his father. Message: Some parents force their will on their children out of sheer selfishness. Moliere nailed that in 1673, and it’s still hanging around.

The script includes tightly written merry irony.

Argan (Maxwell Benitz) believes his wife, Beline (Alyssa Wodack) adores him. “How much this woman loves me – it is perfectly incredible,” he extols. Incredible, indeed, because Beline is conniving to create a “will” with amazing lawyerly double-talk to grab his riches NOW.

All along, Argan and his maid, Toinette (Autumn Christensen), are having bouts of verbal fisticuffs. Toinette questions everything – Is he really ill? Why is he taking all the medications? Why is he nosing into his daughter’s business? When Argan says he wants his daughter to marry a doctor for the sake of his health, Toinette explodes: “No, I will never consent to this marriage!” Probably no maid in history had such say as Toinette. That towering ridiculousness is later topped when Toinette makes believe she is her brother, and Argan – duh – buys in while noticing there is a resemblance.

Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft keeps her game and clever players clicking. Performances are solid all around, with Maxwell Benitz, Matthew Peplinski (two roles) and Autumn Christensen prominent in the verbal and physical animation. Through her UW-Oshkosh career, Autumn Christensen has performed at an elevated level from the one-of-a-kind Mute in “The Fantasticks” to this season’s splashy roles that include the radiantly comically-nuanced Toinette.

This and that:

+ The look of the show involves economics. An elegant residence is represented with a few set pieces and original backdrops that capture the aura of the regal in images of Greek columns and statuary and ornamentation. Costuming is in play on the upper body only. Below, the players wear such contemporary items as jeans and casual footwear. Special effort goes into Maxwell Benitz’s look with prestige fabric for his robe and nightcap.  

+ UW-Oshkosh Theatre uses see-through masks in performances.

+ Cast members who are not in scenes sit in the front row of the theater, and they provide laughter when comical scenes hit a roll.

+ There is no applause, except for this: Applause, APPLAUSE.

***

Creative: Playwright – Moliere; adaptation and direction – Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft; producers – Justine Stokes and John Zarbano; stage manager – Amanda Penkivech; costume designer – Eve Funnell (alumna guest designer); lighting design – Kev Kollmann; scenic design – Daniel Hobbs; technical director – Mark Spitzer; scenery construction, stagecraft class, Raiden Montero, Nathan Wolkoff, Jensen McKenzie, G Krenke, Daria Chicart, Aubrey Kestell; scenic painters – Aubrey Kestell, Daniel Hobbs; props – G. Krenke, Aubrey Kestell; costume technology supervisor – Jeanne Oost; costume shop assistants – Alyssa Wodack, Autumn Christensen, Ali Basham; light board operator – Jensen McKenzie; sound board operators – Nathan Wolkoff, Brian Ugoroski; deck and prop crew – Hannah Olsen

Cast:

Toinette – Autumn Christensen

Argan – Maxwell Benitz

Angelique – Lexi Bestol

Beralde – Matthew Peplinski

Beline – Alyssa Wodack

Cleante – Drew Schlimgen

Louison – Sami Markle

Doctor Diafoirus – Matt Peplinski

Thomas Diafoirus – Drake Hansen

Fleurant – Kev Kollmann

Mr. DeBonnefoi – Isaac Davis

Doctor Purgon – Drake Hansen

Triton TV video production staff: technical producer – Justine Stokes; engineer – Bill Kerkhof; director – Kyle Winek; technical director – Will Dauss; camera operators – Ruby Anderson, Nick Matteson, Joe Ogneoff, Billy Piotrowski

Running time: One hour, 33 minutes

Pay-to-view access to May 15: https://uwosh.universitytickets.com/w/?cid=170

Also: The campus production of “The Gilbert and Sullivan Tavern Follies” is part of the access.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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