By Pierre Corneille
Freely adapted by Tony Kushner
Directed by Charles Newell
At Court Theatre
“The art of illusion is the art of love, and the art of love
is the blood-red heart of the world.” Tony Kushner
In one of the finest productions I’ve ever witnessed at Court Theatre, director Charles Newell’s passion for Baroque metatheatricality comes across in a splendid, throughly engrossing, production of The Illusion running through April 11, 2010. This is a “can’t miss show!”
Tony Kushner’s freely adapted version of 17th Century playwright Pierre Corneille’s L’illusion Comique is a tightly drawn fantasy about the nature of love. In The Illusion Tony Kushner’s influence is apparent through his emphasis on Corneille’s poetic language upon which the Frenchman’s wit, sarcastic humor and spot-on treatment of the nature of love dominates.
The story finds Pridamant (John Reeger), stately lawyer from Avignon traveling to a cave to seek the help of a magician, Alcandre (Chris Sullivan)), to find his son that he banished 15 years ago. Pridamant feels guilt for his actions and he wants to reconcile with his son. The sorcerer conjures up, from the ‘other side’ visions of the son’s life featuring his pursuits of love and his ultimate betrayals. We witness the son, know as Calisto, Clindor and Theogenes (Michael Maher), in his pursuit of the art of love. He is totally infatuated with Melibea/Isabelle/Hippolya (Hillary Clemens) in each of the sorcerer’s illusions. He is aided by the maid Elicia/Lyse/Clarina (Elizabeth Ledo) who secretly is in love with the son. Calisto struggles with rivals for the lady’s hand. Matamore (Timothy Edward Kane) is the campy, over-the-top aristocrat and Pleribo/Lyse/Prince Floriame (Kareem Bandealy) is more dangerous rival for the lady’s love.
The story’s unique blend of fantasy and fact never allows the audience to know where reality lies and a lesson in frustration ultimately leads to a fulfilling revelation of what illusions we hold true in our own lives. The flowery word play including dialogue in verse come across expertly from the terrific cast of “A” list Chicago actors led by John Reeger and Chris Sullivan. I was impressed with the work of Michael Mahler in a non-musical dramatic role. Timothy Edward Kane almost steals the show as Matamore. Kevin Gudahl, as the servant Amanuensis and later as Geronte, was quite effective while Elizabeth Ledo and Hillary Clemens deftly portrayed the women. Kareem Bandealy rounds out this fantastic ensemble. I’ve not seen better acting that I witnessed here.
The set design (by Collette Pollard), lighting design (by John Culbert), sound (by Josh Horvath) with Jacqueline Firkins period-perfect costumes all contributed into a technically perfect production.
The blurred line between reality and illusion or fantasy hones in to change Pridamant forever. It is a joyous fantasy on the nature of love. The poetic language, the sarcasm and humor together with the excellent ensemble acting makes for a pleasant theatrical experience. Don’t miss this perfect production.
At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $32 – $56, wednesdays & thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7;30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.