We’ve started working our way through Act 1 of The Hypochondriac. It’s been an intuitive hunt to figure out the style and the world of this piece. I don’t have all the answers yet and don’t want to lock into something too soon. 2 big questions brought up today: how did Argan make his money and how did his hypochondria begin? Other things came up about the relationship with his wife and the basis of that relationship.
Matt, the director, feels my Argan isn’t stupid. This makes it difficult to get away with some of the trickier sections. I’ve developed a pretty sharp b.s. detector in real life so playing the opposite is tough. It goes against my instincts and comes off as being put on. Argan is being kept closer to my real age, which also doesn’t allow me to be dottering or foolish from having lost it upstairs. I believe he is addicted to the medications, the enemas and, above all, the attention. His world would fall apart without that. It’s what he uses to control a world he can’t.
What I’ve come up with for his back story is pretty sad. In the way that Malvolio’s story is sad if you think he is going off to kill himself at the end of Twelfth Night. As I was going through and analyzing Act 1, the obvious dawned on me. He’s getting his affairs in order. He’s paying off his medical bills, he’s arranging a marriage to a doctor for his only daughter and he’s writing his second wife into his will so she gets everything. He wants to have a child with his second wife but that’s not working out. His personal assistant keeps agitating him, making him think he’ll die more quickly.
He thinks he’s going to die soon from some mysterious illness no one has been able to identify. His time is limited.
Something about the hypochondria is being used to protect him and the people he loves. It’s a way of warding off something really bad happening. I don’t really get that either. I try to slog through any illnesses until I hit the wall. But then I did take a Zyrtec yesterday when I felt a scratch in my throat. I think Argan’s hypochondria came out of a depression when his first wife went away. Some think she died. I wonder if she had enough of him and left. But that choice might make him more suspicious of others.
Bottom line is I don’t know what I’m doing right now but I do know that this can’t be played for laughs or it won’t have legs. On the other hand, it isn’t Strindberg. For it to work I think he needs to genuinely care about his daughter and his second wife. When he feels betrayed by them, it should cut to the core.