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Theater 34.1 (2004) 4-9

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French Tailoring

Mark Rucker and James Magruder, Interviewed by Catherine Sheehy

The Imaginary Invalid, act II, scene 6. Illustration: Louis Leloir" width="72" height="98" />
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Figure 1
The Imaginary Invalid, act II, scene 6. Illustration: Louis Leloir

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CATHERINE SHEEHY James, you teach translation and adaptation at the Drama School, and your work on The Imaginary Invalid seems to be a bit of both. Do you have a philosophy of translation? What is your debt to the original?

JAMES MAGRUDER I don't have an overriding philosophy, other than "make it stageworthy." I do feel that the translator and the source language author should be simpatico. When my students are submitting their ideas for final translation or adaptation projects, I insist they produce a "Why Me/Why Now/Why This?" statement. So what did I have in common with Molière's concerns—linguistic, stylistic, and thematic—in The Imaginary Invalid, and why did the American theater need another version in 1999? This is Molière's play: his characters; his plot; his jeremiads; his scenes. But since English, especially American English, has at least twice the vocabulary of French, and 325 years or so of comic and cultural references have elapsed since its premiere, well ... I had that much more to play with. I encourage such play in my students.

How did you choose The Imaginary Invalid? I know that Stan Wojewodski Jr., who was artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre at the time, is an absolute Molière maven. Did he call you specifically about the play, or had you been toying with the idea of this piece already?

MAGRUDER Stan called me out of the blue in March of 1999 and asked me if I would be interested in doing a new Invalid with Mark Rucker. With all the interludes. Mutual friends had been telling me for some time that Mark and I had similar senses of humor, so I said yes without hesitation. I didn't have much time, since rehearsals would begin in late August, but I managed to do two full drafts before we started.

The most striking thing about your altogether striking translation is probably the finale, with Toinette appearing as Hillary Clinton touting universal health care. Can you talk about that choice? How did you come to it? Also, in 1999, it had that comic sine qua non: immediacy and pertinence. Does it still play?

MAGRUDER Hillary was just then embarking upon her "listening" tour of New York State in anticipation of running for senator the following year. Toinette drops out of Molière's play, and Veanne Cox had (and has) a wonderful way with a comic song, and I wanted her in the finale. In Molière's play, Argan has to cure different diseases in order to get his medical degree, so I decided to have Hillary, Ms. Universal Coverage, present Argan with some intractable American maladies: gingivitis, obesity, male pattern baldness, and finally, poverty. As for whether it holds up for 2003, well, the notion of universal health coverage isn't going away. Or poverty. Or Hillary Clinton, God love her. [End Page 5]

What are Molière's chief influences? What are yours? Is there any place that they jar with each other? How do you resolve that?

MAGRUDER Like all canny actor-writers, Molière took the best from his forebears and contemporaries. I was weaned on Perelman and humiliation, then moved to wits like Austen, Sheridan, Forster, and Dawn Powell. Like many a gay man, I know far too much about the Broadway musical and the films of Cukor and Wilder and Ophuls, and I've somehow retained every commercial jingle and sitcom from 1964 to roughly 1982, when I stopped watching television. I adore the high-low split of American culture. And now, at last, is my ex post facto opportunity to inform or remind the world, including the appalled burghers of New Haven and several uncomprehending critics, that The Imaginary Invalid is not Tartuffe , not...


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