Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Illusion"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey

"Illusion" of Grandeur

by Beverly Creasey

The Stage Door Theatre Company's motto is "to entertain and challenge." With Corneille's "The Illusion", adapted by Tony Kushner, they strike the perfect balance between the two --- not an easy task with as delicate a play. (Trinity Rep mounted an ornate production several years ago which seemed designed to challenge and confuse, leaving the audience in a geometric haze.) Stage Door's "Illusion" is wonderfully ethereal, yet grounded in the gorgeous language of Corneille and Kushner. What comes through is the magic of the journey which unfolds before our eyes, and the power of illusion to evoke reality. Corneille's ideas about artifice and realism, vision and memory, are as fascinating today as they must have been in the 1600s.

Maureen Tannian Butler plays the magician to whom a seemingly desperate father goes to find his son, lost to him some twenty years earlier. Butler is a wry enchantress, at once frighteningly and deliciously commanding as she conjures up adventures by which to measure a life ... harrowing episodes of brash daring and close escapes.

Jim Robinson gives a sure-footed performance as the lawyer/father whose pride keeps his emotions at bay --- until the magician extracts a "hard-won tear of remorse." Newell Young portrays the dashing young man as a bit of a rake, with all the dangerous charm of an Erroll Flynn. Jenne Gooding and Kate Clarke are the two women enchanted by this handsome scoundrel. Gooding is the elegant aristocrat and Clarke the scheming, all too eager maid --- the "dread Medusa of the linen closet." Kushner's grand sweep of style is never so evident or delightful as in the character of the "lunatic squire" --- one of the son's many rivals in pursuit of love.

Derry Woodhouse gives a bravura performance as the erring knight, the source of everyone's merriment as he extemporises his overblown sonnets. Woodhouse makes him a touching fool, so sweetly mad that his determination to retire to "the sea of tranquility" is almost heart-breaking.

Brian Abascal is a droll hobgoblin, and a chilling nemesis in one of the magician's vignettes. David Wood, too, dons different costumes: as a smarmy rival for a lady's affections, and as a vengeful husband.

Director Kimberly Faris makes every moment stand out as if in relief .... so that the illusions fall neatly, and swiftly, into place. The adventures flew by so quickly you wished there were more. Judy Staicer's simple crystal-fingered stalagmite set evokes wizards and spells, as does Amy Lee's crimson tinged lighting and Robert Zawistowski's haunting music. Bob Pagliarulo's period costumes of rich brocade for the wealthy aristocrats and flattering tunic for the swashbuckler added to the sumptuous feel of the illusions, as do the sorceress' fantastical robe and ingenious crown of feathers and "angel hair". If, as Corneille says, the world is illusion, then that would explain why theater is so real.

"The Illusion" (till 27 May)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide