In the comedies of Molière, it’s fairly safe to assume two things: Everyone has an angle. And the maid is always the smartest person in the room.
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That’s just how Allyce Beasley likes it.
Beasley — perhaps best known as Agnes DiPesto, the rhyming receptionist from TV’s “Moonlighting” — plays Toinette the maid in the Schoolhouse Theater production of Molière’s final comedy, “The Imaginary Invalid,” opening Thursday and running through June 20.
Even though it was written in 1673, the topic couldn’t be more, well, topical: It deals with health care and the lengths one will go to secure it.
Argan, the wealthy hypochondriac of the title, will marry his daughter to a medical student whose father is a doctor, just to guarantee free medical care for himself. Consider it the ultimate private option.
“It’s kind of music hall, Benny Hillish, a little bit,” Beasley says after a recent Midtown rehearsal before the cast headed north to inhabit the Croton Falls venue. “And we’ve been talking about Marx Brothers movies a little bit.”
If Toinette were one of the Brothers Marx, who would she be?
“At the beginning, I’d be more Groucho and at the end, definitely more Chico,” she says.
The Marx Brothers imagery, however, brings unintended baggage.
“It’s so hard, once you start thinking about Groucho with those lines, he just starts coming out of your mouth,” Beasley says. “It’s like ‘You take the blonde, and I’ll take the one in the turban.’ It just comes out that way. So we’re trying to see where that fits, where the script will support it.”
Molière wrote with the blessing of King Louis XIV, but his work was populist, often skewering hypocrites of the upper crust. In “The Miser,” it was the wealthy Harpagon. In “Tartuffe,” it was the religious hypocrite Orgon. In “The Imaginary Invalid,” it’s the wealthy hypochondriac Argan.
In each, the playwright used stock characters — the pristine daughter, the scheming wife, the sage brother, and the wise-cracking servant — to point out the failure of the rich to see the truth.
“The servants are always Molière’s point of view,” Beasley says, who adds that working on the show has made her think back to her “Moonlighting” days.
“I had a child and a household and a housekeeper who helped me,” she says. “Not so much myself, but the other people I know, the housekeeper does everything. The housekeeper runs the whole house. You’re more married to the housekeeper than you are your own spouse. It is so much fun to play that.”
“My housekeeper knew what was going on,” Beasley says. “She had more experience than I did. I see this Toinette as having been part of this family for a long time, through Argan’s first wife and into this stage of their lives. She’s very much a part of the family.”
A part of the family who can get away with more than a regular servant might, including talking back to the master.
“Absolutely, because they know they can’t live without her,” Beasley says.
Director Kareman says pre-Revolutionary servants in France had job security, like it or not.
“Everybody accepted the situation, so there’s an innocence in that,” Kareman says. “Argan isn’t worried that Toinette is going to quit and find another job. That would be impossible. And she’s not worried she’s going to be fired. They were there for life, you’re part of the family.”
“I keep telling them, ‘You’re not disgruntled with the job. You might be disgruntled with the master, but not with the job. This is your lot in life.'”
Beasley says the realities of modern life played out the same way with her nanny in post-Revolutionary Los Angeles.
“There was no possibility of getting rid of my nanny, because I had to go to work,” she says. “I’d say ‘I can’t take this anymore. She did this and she did this. Here’s your paycheck, I’ve gotta go to work.’ ”
John Tyrrell says playing Argan means reminding himself constantly that he doesn’t know anything.
“In a sense, it’s simple if I can just remember that I don’t understand anything,” Tyrrell says. “I’m a total innocent. I don’t get anything.”
Tyrrell — who played a moneylender in the Broadway production of “The Miser,” opposite Philip Bosco — says he knows he’s stepping into some pretty big shoes: The playwright himself created the role and played Argan for just four performances.
“Molière was very sick,” Kareman says. “His wife didn’t want him to go on, but he knew people were counting on getting paid and in a sort of show-must-go-on thought, he did go on. During the fourth performance, he spit up some blood and was taken home. No doctors would come, because he had made so much fun of them and tortured them in his literature. And no priest would come because he was an actor-writer.”
Beasley says watching doctors taking advantage of her master upsets Toinette.
“I really do love him. He’s my master and I love him,” she says.
What: “The Imaginary Invalid”
When: Weekends, May 27 through June 20. 8 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m., Sundays.
Where: The Schoolhouse Theater, 3 Owens Road, Croton Falls.
Tickets: $30 Thursdays and Fridays; $32 Saturdays and Sundays.
Photo by Mark Vergari/The Journal News: Allyce Beasley and Israel Gutierrez during a rehearsal for “The Imaginary Invalid,” the spring production at the Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls.