November 20, 2002

 

The Illusion

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about BareBones, please visit barebones.org.

For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

The Illusion, performed by BareBones Theatre Group, strikes me as the type of play a college professor would require his students to analyze. It is a comedy written in 1636 by Pierre Corneille, who is considered one of Franceís greatest tragic dramatists. It has been loosely adapted by Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning writer of Angels in America. It is performed as a Commedia deíll Arte, a style of Italian comedy popular from the Renaissance through the 18th century, characterized by typecast characters who wear masks.

This strange performance takes place in the Afro-American Attic Theatre. Pridamant is a lawyer who is estranged from his son. But now he is old, and wants to leave his wealth to an heir, so he seeks the assistance of the magician Alcandre. Alcandre, accompanied by his scary bodyguard Amanuensis, accepts Pridamontís money, and conjures three distinct scenes from the sonís life. The scenes feature five characters, whose names change, but whose roles remain the same from scene to scene. They include the son, his beloved, the belovedís confidante, a rival, and a lunatic.

In the first scene the son loves a woman who is wealthy and aloof, and he seeks the help of her confidante to win her hand. In the second scene, the son is the servant of his own rival, and seeks to win the hand of the rivalís beloved, while secretly courting the confidante. In the third scene, the son has won the hand of his beloved, and is unfaithful to her. The lunatic weaves through all three scenes, providing comic relief, and occasional wisdom. Are you confused yet? I certainly was.

The father, the magician, and his assistant wear varying shades of black. The characters who are conjured wear bright swatches of material over their black leotards, and sparkling masks. The colors make the illusion appear alive, and the reality appear dead.

The most interesting relationship is that of the son and Pridamont, a man full of contradictions. He displays regret for casting his son aside, yet is disgusted by his sonís behavior. He watches his son with the detachment of an audience member, while displaying a lifetime of emotions. His reactions are so disparate from one another; it is difficult to feel any attachment to his character.

As a result, I felt emotionally untouched by anything that happened, though the acting was decent and the script was often funny. Johanna Jowett, who plays the Beloved, has a dramatic flair well suited for the role. Tony Jambon is notable as the lunatic, who muses on the meaning of love. And John Price is formidable as the magician, who is full of tricks.

Though the characterís roles remain the same, their reactions to love are ever-changing. Playwright Kushner has been quoted as saying that "part of the fun of art is that it invites you to interpret it." With so many crossroads of fantasy and reality, there is plenty to interpret in The Illusion.

Lynn Trenning, November 20, 2002

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