Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Illusion ***

To round out their season devoted to Tony Kushner, Signature Theater Company is now presenting this odd early play, an adaptation of a work by Corneille, that Kushner wrote in 1988 before he was a cultural icon. Free of any sociopolitical trappings, it is unlike anything he has written since. The story tells of an elderly lawyer Pridamant (Donald Margulies), wracked with guilt for banishing his only son 15 years prior, who visits a sorcerer Alcandre (Lois Smith) to find out what became of him. She conjures up three visions wherein we see the son (Finn Wittrock), his beloved (Amanda Quaid), her crafty maidservant (Merritt Wever), two very different rivals (Sean Dugan and Peter Bartlett) and his beloved's father (Henry Stram). To complicate matters, the characters in the visions have different names and, in some cases, slightly different roles, although the basic story line continues throughout. The language ranges from the eloquent (especially Alcandre's final speech) to the maidservant's occasional rhymed couplets to unadorned modern speech. The stage veterans Smith, Margulies, Stram and Bartlett, are all a pleasure to watch. Among the younger generation, Dugan and Wever are fine. Wittrock's acting chops are not equal to his matinee idol looks, whereas Quaid's acting is fine in a part for which she seems miscast. Christine Jones' set, Susan Hilferty's costumes and Kevin Adams' lighting are all excellent. There's a nifty fencing scene staged by Rick Sordelet. Michael Mayer's direction seemed to me to drag scenes out a bit. The meaning of the visions is revealed at play's end in a surprise twist that delighted the audience.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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