Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Illusion"

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"The Illusion"

freely adapted from "l'Illusion Comique" by Pierre Corneille
by Tony Kushner
Directed by Kimberly Faris

Scenic Design by Judy Staicer
Lighting Design by Amy Lee
Costume Design by Bob Pagliarulo
Fight Director David Wood
Sound by Robert Zawistowski
Stage Manager Jessica Martin

Pridamant.....................................Jim Robinson
The Amanuensis/Geronte..........Brian Abascal
Alcandre.......................Maureen Tannian Butler
Calisto/Clindor/Theogenes...........Newell Young
Melibea/Isabella/Hyppolyta.......Jenne Gooding
Elicia/Lyse/Clarinda.........................Kate Clarke
Matamore..............................Derry Woodhouse
Perlibo/Adraste/Prince Florilame....David Wood

As I sauntered to the subway after the show tonight, I looked up to see I. M. Pei's Hancock Tower --- the most beautiful piece of sculpture in Boston --- so swathed in mists it was an irregular ladder of lights into an uncertain heaven. It was as if the boiling ankle-deep clouds through which we had waded toward the lobby at the intermission of "The Illusion" had seeped out, softening reality itself into some subtler, realer illusion of truth.
Such is the enjoyable, chucklingly magical spell that Tony Kushner, Director Kimberly Faris and The Stagedoor Theatre Company weave in their recreation of Pierre Corneille's "l'Illusion Comique"

The illusion starts with Scenic Designer Judy Staicer's stalagtitic columns, like enormous mounds of spent candle-wax, making a cavern of illusions for the sorcerer Alcandre (Maureen Tannian Butler), into which strides Jim Robinson's old lawyer Pridament, intent on learning the fate of a wildly exuberant son he forced to flee, long before his dad's hair and beard were grizzled grey. This antique Frenchman first meets the sorcerer's servant (Brian Abascal), rendered tongueless and earless by the sorcerer's red-hot needles and razors. Yet, I insist, this begins a rollickingly good comedy with surprise after surprise exploding out of the engrossing story. (But remember: they do not call this play "The Illusion" for nothing!)

Kushner and the Company put the magic back into theater, as a mystically robed and hatted Alcandre, at the wave of a hand, calls up scenes the son has played into reality for his father to watch and to comment upon. She seeks, at last, a single tear of remorse from the coldly unfilial lawyer --- who admits to interest in his son because heart twinges suggest he life is near an end.

Bob Pagliarulo's costumes are all extremely theatrical --- pointedly so, though I cannot reveal why. (The play is filled with unnoticed hints that explode delightfully later on.)They suggest the age of Moliere, as does the style of these four enactments which ripple with brilliant word-play and deliciously ironic turns. There are four scenes, in which the names of characters change, but their relationships survive intact:

In the first the son (Newell Young) loves, woos, and eventually wins his lady (Jenne Gooding), partly with the connivance of her deliciously tempting maid (Kate Clarke). Of course there's a rival (David Wood) --- there is Always a rival, the play insists --- but he's no match for true love. Here the delight is in the by-play wherein the swain utters cloudy romanticism to win a contrary maiden already actually won but reluctant to admit it, while the crafty, witty maid plays with both sides in the passion.

Then things grow more complicated. In part two, the son is in thrall to a fantastic (Derry Woodhouse) whose enormous bombastic hyperbolies of war and love must be heard to be....well, understood, though not believed. (He faints at one point, and the son insists "No matter. He's just been overcome by prolixity!") But though the servant-son woos a rich maiden, he really loves (and beds) her frustrated maid. Here the rival is the haughty winner, contracted with an off-stage father to marry a wife who would rather die than consummate. The set-piece set-to here is a duel choreographed by David Woods himself (playing the rival) --- rapiers and poniards, as most duels in "Hamlet" are staged --- that has the flash and bite of true fencing despite the ornate guards and handles of the stage-swords. It ends with the son in jail, to be beheaded as a common murderer --- and interrupted only by an intermission.

Part three continues the tale, with the penniless maid turning tables, forcing her faithless lover into marriage with a now penniless "love" while accepting her fortune in exchange for saving her insincere suitor. Then at this point scene shifts again, as the playwright digs deeper into the matter of his play. The hapless maiden grapples with her father (Brian Abascal in a role change) over whether he can both love his daughter and yet condemn her to a loveless marriage.

The final tableau shows the son again the thrall of a prince, seducing his princess. Obviously, as the commentators suggest, Pridament's son --- whatever his real name --- has undergone a kind of character decay, scene for scene, while he has grown more complicated as a personage. What is a father to think? What is an audience?

For more, you must get to The BCA before this lovely play closes on the 27th. There Is more --- in particular a wondrous speech from Alcandre about the glorious pre-eminence of love in the real world as well as in the theater, and a madman beginning his journey to, I swear, the airless desert Sea of Tranquility on the full moon.

You doubt me?
You'll just have to go, and see it for yourself.


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

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide