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UNC hosts health and illness seminar

To contextualize a 17th century play, the Program in the Humanities has assembled a panel of experts.

The department will host “The Imaginary Invalid: Health, Illness, and Narrative,” a seminar in conjunction with PlayMakers Repertory Company’s adapted presentation of Moliere’s comedy.

Today and Saturday, UNC professors will discuss the costumes, comedic tools and medicinal aspects of director Dominque Serrand’s adaptation of “The Imaginary Invalid,” which runs until Nov. 11.

“We try to extend the conversation,” said Eve Duffy, director of the humanities department.

Jade Bettin, a dramatic arts professor, will start the seminar with her panel “Conveying Comedy through Costume.”

“They like to bring in someone who’s connected with (the Center for Dramatic Arts) that can give kind of the inside scoop on what’s going on,” Bettin said.

Bettin helped make the costumes that Sonya Berlovitz — a member of Serrand’s artistic team — designed. Bettin said she will also discuss the historic inspiration of the costumes.

“The language of costumes that Moliere’s actors would have appeared on stage in would have appeared foreign to us,” Bettin said. “It would distance the audience a bit.”

Thomas Stumpf, a retired professor of English and comparative literature at UNC, said it is rare to see adaptations that are very similar to the original work.

“There’s no substitute for actually seeing the play as it was created,” Stumpf said. “It’s almost impossible to do.”

The PlayMakers adaptation examines the political atmosphere of health care.

Stumpf and Terrence Holt, a professor of medicine, will discuss the aspects of medicine in the play.

The main character, Argan, is a hypochondriac who hires numerous doctors to avoid death.

“It’s a sort of satire on the medical treatment,” Stumpf said.

Stumpf will host the panel “The Purging of Fantasy: Dr. Comedy’s Prescription” Saturday.

Duffy said the audience can relate to Argan, making the play an examination of what it means to be human.

“There is this play that’s been around for a really long time about this hypochondriac who wants to be immortal — or at least healthy,” Duffy said. “This situation still resonates with us today.”

Duffy said the panel discussion topics share only a commonality in the performance they relate to.

“They’re about as far away as you can possibly be,” she said.

But she said the diversity has its advantages.

“People really like the way it gets them a more complete experience.”

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